Hurricane Sandy: Resources for Protecting Cleanup Workers and Volunteer (NYCOSH)

The New York City Central Labor Council, the Long Island Federation of Labor and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) have released a fact sheet: CAUTION: HURRICANE SANDY CLEAN UP CAN BE HAZARDOUS! with information on how to avoid illnesses and injuries during hurricane cleanup. A list of links to government resources is included.

“There are a wide range of hazards to which workers, volunteers and home owners may be exposed,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council. “These include safety hazards such as electrocution, asphyxiation and exposure to toxic substances such as asbestos, lead, silica and biological hazards such as mold and bacteria from backed up sewage.”   According to John Durso, President of the Long Island Federation of Labor, “Previous emergency events such as World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina and Deepwater Horizon have demonstrated that there are significant gaps in responding to emergency worker and volunteer health and safety needs – resulting in tens of thousands of rescue and clean up workers becoming ill.   The fact sheet produced by NYCOSH provides information about safety and health hazards cleanup workers can expect to encounter and links to other useful information.”

In addition to such widespread hazards, NYCOSH is particularly concerned about clean up of areas such as the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek in which the storm water is likely overflow into nearby residential areas. Sewage poses very significant threats to human health. Safe and effective cleanup or removal of sewage-contaminated materials is usually best left to technically qualified, environmental professionals. “The Gowanus Canal,” said Joel Shufro, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health “is a federally designated Super Fund site. The canal contains highly toxic substances and it is imperative that special precautions be taken and that only workers who are appropriately trained participate in the clean up.” 

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must provide a safe and healthful workplace free of recognized hazards and follow OSHA standards. Employers’ responsibilities also include providing training, personal protective equipment appropriate to the cleanup tasks. Employers are also required to provide medical examinations and recordkeeping. Workers should report hazardous conditions to OSHA (1-8000 321-OSHA(6742).

The New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC) is a non-profit labor membership organization 1.3 million workers in 300 local unions from every trade, occupation, public and private sector of the New York economy.

The Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, is the voice for the Long Island labor movement representing over 160 unions of workers in a wide range of occupations on Long Island

NYCOSH is a membership organization of workers, unions, community-based organizations, health and legal professionals, and other activists.  The mission of NYCOSH is to insure that every worker is provided a safe and healthful work environment. NYCOSH believes that all workplace injuries and illnesses are preventable. 

(Click here for fact sheet)

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