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Laborers Dig into Hurricane Sandy Clean-Up

Thousands of Laborers in New Jersey and New York are involved in what promises to be a years’ long clean-up of the damage and debris caused by Hurricane Sandy. The October superstorm left a calling card stretching from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Damage estimates approach $50 billion, the majority springing from Sandy’s hammering of New Jersey and New York.

Just a few of the Health Alerts from the LHSFNA that will help Laborers stay safe when working in hazardous clean-up:

  • Mold And Fungi
  • Safe Work With Power Saws
  • Electrical Safety For Non-Electricians
  • Asbestos In Construction
  • Falls From Heights

Order these and other Health Alerts, pamphlets and brochures by clicking on Publications.

Laborers are hauling out mounds of wood, uprooted trees and other debris from ravaged communities. They are also repairing battered bridges and washed out roads. Demolition and rebuilding will follow once insurance claims have been dispersed and disaster grants and loans awarded; a situation not likely for months. For now, just reaching and removing the devastation keeps workers busy.

“On barrier islands, storm surges dumped tons of sand. They had to go in with front end loaders to remove it. Then, they could get people in to do debris removal,” says Ken Hoffner, Assistant Director of the New Jersey Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund. And, he continues, this phase of the clean-up is far from complete. “A lot of people are out of their homes, and the National Guard is still out in small towns. Only construction crews can come in.”

So overwhelming was Sandy’s destruction that many hard-hit communities waited days before local governments and emergency agencies could provide relief. In the interim, Laborers stepped up.

“A lot of locals went down and organized events to get debris out. It was all volunteer,” recalls Mickey Kelly, Executive Director of the New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund.

Hazards encountered in clean-up work are numerous. These include exposure to asbestos and lead, downed electrical wires, unsafe buildings and, especially after flooding, contaminated water, sewage and mold. PPE provides protection, but in light of what happened during the 9/ll clean-up – in the rush to help, workers did not always wear PPE, and thousands have become ill – the specter of a repeat situation has been raised.

Kelly and Hoffner say a repeat of post 9/11 illnesses for clean-up workers is less likely for Laborers this time around. Because the most destructive damage from Sandy was done to residential structures and since most residents evacuated the hardest hit areas before the storm, there was little need for large scale rescue operations requiring digging through rubble. In addition, regulatory agencies such as OSHA are actively enforcing safety and health requirements in the aftermath of the storm. Nevertheless, LIUNA signatory employers are taking every precaution for keeping workers safe.

“They have the OSHA 10 training, and they all go in with full protection,” says Kelly.

Hoffner agrees. “Demolition clean-up is their normal work and their responses are no different. What is different is how the demolition occurred. I don’t foresee problems.”

OSHA has a website specific to hazards likely to be encountered when cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy and a Hurricane Sandy Cleanup PPE Matrix to assist employers in determining the appropriate PPE for specific tasks.

The LHSFNA is also providing assistance that helps Laborers stay safe as they continue their involvement in cleaning up after Sandy. The Fund has sent copies of the Roadway Safety + Disaster Response CD, part of the Roadway Safety Awareness Program, to be distributed by the New Jersey and New York Funds. Requests for the CD can also be directed to the LHSFNA. The Fund also has a number of useful publications, including but not limited to those mentioned in the above box. A complete listing is available online. Order them through the online Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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