At FEMA’s request, OSHA personnel headed the Joint Field Office in Austin, Texas to develop an incident-specific health and safety plan to protect workers during the cleanup and recovery operations following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.

Agency efforts include planning and conducting outreach with interagency partners and stakeholders by providing worker safety and health resources, such as the agency’s preparedness, response, and recovery webpages on hurricanes and floods.

Removing workers from hazards

To date, OSHA staff members have conducted dozens of interventions in the Coastal Bend area to assist employers and workers in identifying unsafe or potentially unsafe working conditions. OSHA response teams have removed approximately 350 workers from hazards, and provided outreach at shelters and work camps where workers assembled and began preparing for recovery activities.

Additionally, staffers from OSHA’s Houston and Corpus Cristi offices are partnering with the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) and other resources area businesses and recovery workers. ASSE members will also distribute the donations to the community to aid in the cleanup of residential locations.

Providing volunteers with PPE

On September 9, a team of OSHA responders offered assistance to contractors, volunteers, and residents in Friendswood, Texas, who were recovering homes devastated by the floods from Hurricane Harvey. OSHA’s Simon Cabello and Justine Callahan provided volunteers from a local community church with personal protective equipment such as safety glasses and respirators for the work they were doing. The OSHA team focused on safety and health precautions, but offered help to local residents in other ways when needed. While doing their outreach, an elderly couple told inspectors Cabello and Callahan that they didn’t have flood insurance and they weren’t sure how to get information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The OSHA inspectors connected the homeowners with a FEMA representative, who met with them to assist in their recovery efforts.

Irma response

OSHA is also actively engaged with the National Response Team and the interagency response to Hurricane Irma, helping employers keep their workers safe during cleanup and recovery operations. The agency says most of its programmed enforcement actions will cease in the affected areas to avoid disrupting recovery operations. An OSHA Emergency Response Team will provide compliance assistance.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is preparing to send personnel and equipment to assist FEMA in recovery efforts.