Let’s Not Kill Our Responders

| June 16, 2008

June 1 marked the beginning of the 2008 Hurricane Season.  Both individuals and organizations in Florida are being urged to review and update their emergency plans to ensure we are ready in case a serious storm comes our way this year.  There are articles in the paper on ensuring that our pets are save, putting together our “Grap-and-Go Kits” and hurricane-proofing our landscaping.


So what does that have to do with an occupational safety and health management system?


A great deal, as it turns out.


As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the annual AIHce two weeks ago.  The keynote speaker on Wednesday morning was Dr. Robin Herbert.  She is the director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program Data and Coordination Center with the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, New York.


Her presentation covered, in sometimes graphic detail, the on-going health impacts to those who responded to the World Trade Center (WTC) attack on 9/11.  This includes both physical and psychological health effects — including respiratory disease, stomach problems and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Some of these effects are the result of the fact that individuals worked long hours, ate their meals and slept outdoors at the site — in effect having 24/7 exposure to a toxic environment.


Dr. Herbert ended her presentation with a list of recommendations that every organization should consider in their annual review of their emergency plan to prevent future impacts to the health of their emergency workers and first responders:

  • Ensure that each person has, and is trained to use, appropriate personal protective equipment

  • Include the steps (and supplies) necessary to define a “boundary” around areas that are not safe and limit access to those areas

  • Limit the time individuals spend in emergency response and in areas with unsafe exposures

  • Record the name of each individual who participates in the emergency response in case future follow-up is needed

  • Take action to prevent and address psychological as well as physical trauma

Just as we have learned for confined space entry, we need to be aware that emergency response to disaster events can kill or maim responders.  We need to have plans in place to prevent this from happening — before the disaster occurs.  In other works – we need to include emergency response as part of an OH&S management system.


© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2008)

Category: Emergency Preparedness, OHSMS Implementation

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