OSHA is coordinating technical support for federal responder and federal contractor safety and health during cleanup and recovery operations along the Gulf Coast, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao announced this week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently activated the Worker Safety and Health Support Annex under the National Response Plan (NRP).

"With the vast number of workers involved in the cleanup, recovery and rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast, it is important to ensure that workers are operating safely to prevent unnecessary injuries," said Chao. "The safety and health of those working to rebuild the communities in the devastated regions is one of our highest priorities."

OSHA is working with FEMA and other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security, in various tasks, including providing additional OSHA staff to joint field offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, La., as well as in Mississippi and Alabama.

OSHA is developing an overall worker safety and health strategy that addresses safety and health issues for federal responders and federal contractors involved in response and recovery operations. The agency is also developing an exposure and occupationally-based matrix of worker protection requirements, focusing on worker activities necessary for the safe response and recovery now and in the future.

As needed, Annex activities will include the monitoring of incident safety and health throughout the operation, coordinating incident-specific responder training and taking responder/worker exposure monitoring for chemical and biological contaminants and physical stressors, including noise and heat.

In coordination with Annex cooperative agencies, OSHA will also develop, implement and monitor an incident personal protective equipment program (PPE), including the selection, use and decontamination of PPE.

"The Worker Safety and Health Support Annex provides a high level of protection for organizations involved in nationally significant events, and we are confident that OSHA is making a positive impact on the lives of responders and workers throughout these operations, " said Jonathan L. Snare, deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.