Disaster site workers, also known as response and recovery workers, are exposed to all kinds of hazards and work in an ever-changing environment. After natural disasters like hurricanes, infrastructure systems can be damaged or destroyed, creating hazards like flooding, downed live electrical wires, and chemical spills.
To protect these workers, they must be trained in hazard control methods, exposure monitoring, and safe work practices.
Identify, Avoid, Control
In any kind of working conditions, ideally, workers can identify hazards, have the knowledge and tools available to them to avoid the hazards, and control them.
When working in a disaster area, each of those things becomes a bit more complicated. The number of hazards is increased, and access to standard methodologies and tools to mitigate hazards may be decreased.
Workers should be made aware of the hazards that could be present before starting work, and safety training ahead of deployment is essential to creating that awareness, as well as informing workers about how they can avoid and control hazards in these high-risk areas. Also, the site and work should be monitored for changing conditions. For instance, in collapsed or unstable structures, engineers need to be continually evaluating the risk of working in and around the area.
Work practices such as establishing and maintaining evacuation routes and channels of communication are key in a disaster area. Setting up first aid supplies and services and making sure that fresh drinking water is available are also important considerations.
Personal Protective Equipment
Workers should be trained on the proper use and fit for any personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to mitigate hazards while completing their work. Check the ANSI-approved list for footwear, eye, hand, and head protection. Workers who are out in the sun should be instructed to wear clothing that protects them from sun exposure, and special consideration should be given to heat and cold stress.
Respiratory protection is sometimes necessary, and every worker needs to be trained, medically qualified, and fit tested for the specific respirator they are using. Hi-vis attire, fall protection, chaps, snake boots, hazmat suits, PPE for blood borne pathogens, personal flotation devices (PFDs), are all items that could potentially be required to complete work safely. Specialized training is necessary to use personal fall arrest systems, hazmat suits, and respirators among others.
Hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes, bombings, are all traumatic events. Disaster site workers are deployed into highly devastated areas where people have lost lives, loved ones, and property. Apart from first responders, they are there to clean up and rebuild and are part of the community’s effort towards recovery. Terrible conditions, long hours, and lack of sleep can take a physical toll. Being on high alert and witnessing the devastation around them can take a mental toll. Workers need to be trained on how to prepare for the stress and exhaustion that come with working in a disaster area.
Training and Certifications for Disaster Site Workers
Disaster site workers need to be properly trained and prepared for working in a disaster zone. There are several different classes that cover important topics and a few OSHA certification classes specifically designed for disaster workers.
OSHA Disaster Site Worker #7600
This OSHA program educates workers who are involved in utility work, demolition, debris removal, heavy equipment operation and clean-up operations to support disaster recovery.
There are two levels of the OSHA Disaster Site Worker course, a 7.5 hour and a 15-hour course. An OSHA 10 or 30 Hour Construction or General Industry certification is a pre-requisite to both of these courses. The 7.5 and 15-hour courses both cover respiratory protection, incident command system, traumatic incident stress, personal protective equipment, and decontamination procedures, with the 15-hour course going more in depth on these topics.
A confined space is a space that was not designed to be occupied for long periods, but they are large enough for workers to enter to complete a task. Confined spaces have a limited means of entering and exiting. Sewer systems, tanks, silos, utility housings and pipelines are all good examples of confined spaces and are likely to need repairs, monitoring or maintenance done after a disaster. Confined space training prepares workers to recognize and avoid potential hazards like trapped toxic gases, engulfment, exposed live wires, and heat stress.
24 & 40 Hour HAZWOPER and HAZWOPER Refresher
There are three different types of HAZMAT courses that OSHA has authorized for workers who may be exposed to, or be responsible for clean-up operations involving hazardous substances.
The 24 Hour HAZWOPER is the minimum requirement for workers who are required to respond to uncontrolled releases or incidents where there is a potential for an uncontrolled release of hazardous substances but is not as in-depth as the 40 Hour Course.
The 40 Hour HAZWOPER course is recommended for participants who will be actively involved in the cleanup of a hazardous material spill, as well as being a first responder and responsible for controlling the spill.
Those who have achieved their 40 Hour HAZWOPER certifications must take an 8-hour refresher annually.
GHS & Hazard Communication (HAZCOM)
This general awareness course familiarizes participants with the Global Harmonized System (GHS) of hazard communication. GHS was derived from major hazard communication systems across the world, including OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard. Participants will be able to recognize the hazard communication symbols under GHS, become familiar with safety data sheets, and hazard classifications.
All construction workers should be trained in fall protection. In a disaster recovery operation, the conditions are likely to be unstable, and fall protection is essential to complete certain work. There are different levels of fall protection from a general awareness course to a 24-hour Competent Person Fall Protection that complies with the US Army Corps of Engineers EM 385 standard. Important topics for all workers to get an understanding of include, the hierarchy of controls, personal fall protection systems and fall protection principles.
OSHA 10 Hour and 30 Hour Construction
OSHA 10 hour Construction certification is rapidly becoming required by states and other governing agencies for any worker to perform work on, or even gain access to, a public works construction project. Also, private companies are demanding it as a contractual requirement. There will not be an exception with recovery and rebuilding projects, especially considering the additional risks.
The OSHA 30 hour Construction certification expands on and dives deeper into the topics of the 10 hour and is a good certification for supervisors and anyone with responsibility for a safety program to have. In addition, an OSHA 10 or 30-hour certification is a prerequisite to the OSHA Disaster Site Worker Course #7600.
Blood Borne Pathogens and Needle Stick Prevention
Blood borne pathogens training contains essential information for anyone who may come into contact with blood, other bodily fluids or waste. There is a higher risk of exposure in a disaster setting, and being trained on how to protect yourself from exposure can prevent you from contracting serious illnesses, bacteria, and viruses.
First Aid, CPR & AED Training
Everyone should learn first aid and CPR, and that certainly includes workers in a disaster recovery setting. There are different types of First Aid, CPR & AED classes. Some like the American Heart Association’s Basic Life Support and HeartSaver, while accessible to anyone, are geared to first responders and medical professionals. The National Safety Council also has a First Aid, CPR & AED course that is geared more towards those in the trade industries. No matter what type of course it is, knowing CPR and first aid, and understanding how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) can save a life.
Disaster recovery is incredibly important work in every community. Recovery operations impact the health and wellness of the community, as well as its economic stability. It is hard to protect disaster site workers from hazards, but the right training is the best first step.
There are other classes and informational resources that can help prepare disaster site workers, first responders, and businesses for the work they must to support the recovery process from a catastrophic event.
More information can be found here:
UASC Training Catalog
NFPA 1600 Standard on Disaster/ Emergency Management and Business Continuity
OSHA Emergency Preparedness and Response