After a disaster is over and the death toll assessed, workers and employers need to use precautions so more people don't get sick or hurt. Safety BLR reported tips provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for worker safety after a disaster.
An experienced workers' compensation lawyer knows people within the construction industry are routinely called in to perform post-disaster cleanup work. Construction workers need to destroy and demolish damaged buildings, fix power lines and utilities, and rebuild structures that have been affected by the disaster.
Whether a fire, flood, explosion, tornado, hurricane, earthquake or other natural or man-made catastrophe, those who help rebuild face significant personal risk of injury as they deal with the aftermath. Employers have an obligation to take steps to keep construction workers safe from harm.
Construction Worker Risks When Rebuilding Damaged Structures
Repairing, or demolishing and rebuilding, a structure in the aftermath of an accident presents unique hazards. In commercial buildings where chemicals were stored, the disaster may have caused the chemicals to be released into water or air. A chemical inventory must be done to ensure construction workers don't get sick when they go into the building and try to fix damage.
Even in residential buildings, restoration or demolition post-disaster is dangerous because there could be many dangerous conditions. Sewage lines may have broken, releasing raw sewage. Power lines and wiring may have been damaged, creating a fire risk and a risk of electrocution. Asbestos may have been disturbed and particles may have been released into the air. The structure may no longer be sound and stable, and it could collapse upon a construction worker who enters. A construction worker could fall through a floor damaged by the disaster. Mold may have developed after flooding, and can cause respiratory problems for workers.
OSHA holds employers responsible for assessing conditions and ensuring hazards are identified. Prior to any construction worker entering a building, the employer needs to identify risks and provide workers with proper training to respond to them. This includes things like mold or asbestos, which could cause long-term damage and make a worker sick, rather than causing immediate injuries.
OSHA urges employees in disaster zones to take proper safety precautions as well, including wearing safety glasses and a hard hat and using proper respiratory protective gear. Fall protection gear should be utilized when working at any elevation.
Often, construction workers travel away from their normal work site - even going to different cities to respond to the call when disaster happens and rebuilding must occur. Even if you are working far away from your normal job, you should still be entitled to workers' compensation coverage or other benefits after an injury happens. Be sure to know your rights so you are compensated for losses.