Following this week’s devastating tornado in Oklahoma, workers may find themselves in a number of rescue and recovery operations. These general guidelines apply to many workers involved in evaluating and/or clearing damage on their worksites. However, some operations (including utility restoration, clean up of hazardous material spills, and search and rescue activities, should only be conducted by workers with appropriate training, equipment and experience.
Workplace Accident and Injury
Response and recovery work in areas recently hit by a tornado can present significant safety and health hazards that need to be properly identified and evaluated according to established regulations to eliminate the workplace safety and health risks of response and recovery workers. Some of the explicit hazards of post-tornado work include:
- Hazardous driving conditions on slick or blocked roadways
- Slip-and-fall accidents on slippery walkways
- Falling or flying objects such as tree limbs, debris, and utility poles
- Sharp and dangerous objects like nails and broken glass
- Electrical hazards from fallen power lines or downed objects that have come in contact with power lines
- Falls from dangerous height
- Fires caused by energized line contact or by equipment failure
- Exhaustion from working extended shifts
- Heat and Dehydration
Here is a list of best practices to be observed by employees engaged in recovery operations where they face a high risk of workplace injury. General precautions to take:
- Continually follow local radio or television stations for emergency updates and notifications of additional storms. Learn about possible structural, electrical, or gas-leak hazards.
- If any of these hazards are identified, report them immediately to local authorities and/or utility workers.
- Do not contact downed power lines for any reason; do not touch objects in contact with downed power lines.
- Use proper clothing and appropriate work shoes when walking on debris, including heavy boots and gloves.
- Use caution around sharp objects, including nails and broken glass.
- Take proper safety precautions any time you operate generators, chainsaws, or other power tools.
- Take preventative measure to avoid heat illnesses and dehydration.
See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for additional precautions to take after a tornado.