PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is deploying assets to flood-impacted West Virginia counties to ensure employers, workers and others engaged in cleanup efforts avoid potential hazards and take steps to protect themselves.
OSHA compliance assistance officers will provide initial assistance in the three hardest hit counties of Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas – which the President has declared as federal disaster areas.
Before entering buildings or structures after a flood, an assessment of the potential hazards and exposure must be done. Using that information, an employer must ensure – at a minimum – they educate workers on the potential hazards facing them. Employers should also ensure that workers are given proper equipment and know how to use the gear to protect themselves.
The nature of cleanups varies by location. While a flooded residential home may not present the obvious hazards that a commercial property with stored hazardous chemicals would, each situation has its own challenges. Homeowners should be aware that damaged structures may be at risk of collapse, and the onset of mold may have already begun.
Workplaces may encounter these same dangers, in addition to many other serious safety threats, including chemical exposure. Employers should evaluate chemical workplace hazards and create a chemical inventory, which is part of a workplace hazard communication program.
In either situation, homeowners and employers should request the assistance of a safety and health professional.
OSHA’s Hazard Exposure and Risk Assessment Matrix provides information on tasks and operations associated with disaster response and recovery, and common and significant hazards that response and recovery workers might encounter. The matrix can help employers make decisions during risk assessment that will protect their employees working in hurricane-impacted areas.