OSHA, Improve Safety Standards for Hurricane Sandy Responders

  • By: Susan V
  • Target: Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Obama Administration
The Bush Administration relaxed OSHA standards during the rush to clean up after 9/11, compromising workers’ health and safety. The results have been devastating for thousands. Now those same mistakes are being repeated with recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy, which has left many buildings full of raw sewage, asbestos, fiberglass and other hazards.

OSHA is once again operating in a compromised mode of enforcement, issuing only warnings, rather than citations for safety violations. Safety advocates say workers are being hurried into disaster areas without the proper preparation and that the rush is not necessary.

What is needed first is a "comprehensive government assessment of the risks," along with proper training on how to use protective equipment like respirators, advocates told In These Times.

Tell the Obama administration and OSHA that it must not relax worker safety standards in the wake of Hurricane Sandy!

We, the undersigned, expect OSHA and the Obama administration to properly protect those working during the recovery of Hurricane Sandy and not repeat the mistakes made during the 9/11 recovery efforts.

Of specific concern is the report by In These Times of  NY Governor Cuomo’s plans to draw many of the state’s clean-up crew from those out of work due to Hurricane Sandy, without ensuring these workers get the proper training. “Over a three-day period of correspondence with In These Times regarding these clean-up workers, the NY State Commissioner of Labor office failed to respond to questions about what type of training they planned to provide.”

There is justified concern over exploitation of these workers who, because of their desperate situations, may not contact OSHA about safety or health concerns. One worker advocate, an OSHA official during the Clinton administration, says the situation presents “… the potential for a long-term disaster and nobody enforcing the law.”

Though OSHA is doing a good job of supplying respirators to workers, says NYCOSH’s Dave Newman, there’s no indication they are getting training on how to use them properly. Newman says that not using them properly is like using nothing at all. Furthermore, the respirators don’t filter out asbestos, which is one of disaster sites’ major potential hazards. 

Newman believes these “risks for workers could translate to risks for residents. "'The bigger issue here is that if we don’t identify hazards, it’s highly unlikely we are going to have an effective environmental cleanup,' he says.”

According to In These Times, in addition to the thousands of ground zero workers who suffered respiratory illnesses, cancers and other health problems linked to their 9/11 clean-up work, an estimated 1,000 died.

We request that OSHA and the Obama administration ensure that workers involved in the Hurricane Sandy recovery process not face the same fate - that they are properly protected.
Thank you for your time. 

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