When hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas in September, first responders were deployed to help while the storm was raging. Police officers, EMTs, and the coast guard all arrived at the scene to do their jobs in extremely dangerous circumstances. They faced more than harsh winds and flooding. They often had to navigate dangerous conditions such as downed electrical wires, fires, and unstable structures to search for and rescue stranded residents.
These professionals are aware of the inherent danger involved in their work. Still, their employers are expected to protect workers from recognized hazards. This may seem impossible. However, there are things employers can and must do to minimize the risk of harm to these workers.
Protecting Workers from Weather-Related Hazards
Employers of first responders and other workers involved in hurricane response and cleanup should prepare an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. This should identify hazards workers are likely to encounter and explain how to safely perform tasks associated with responding to events like hurricanes and other natural disasters. The plan should include specific information, such as stating efforts that will be made to: establish staging areas a safe distance from the storm; use monitoring equipment to evaluate air for oxygen, carbon monoxide, and toxic gases; and provide effective lines of communication. Other considerations involving logistics should also be addressed, such as providing a clean area where workers can decontaminate, as well as adequate food, water, and rest areas for workers who must remain on-site for extended periods of time.
Employers should also provide training on the plan and any specialized techniques the workers will need to know. In addition, employers should provide the correct personal protective equipment to their employees based on anticipated hazards. Vaccinations against tetanus and other microorganisms that may be encountered could be mandated as a condition of work.
During a hurricane, floodwaters can be contaminated with sewage and toxic materials from industrial production. Downed electrical wires can be live and if they touch water can convey the electricity over distances remote from the downed wire. Damaged buildings risk collapse. Broken or leaking gas lines can lead to explosions. Many employees will face these hazards, including cleanup crews, insurance adjusters, utility workers, building contractors, and even members of the press.
Cleanup and Beyond
After the first response is completed, cleanup crews will need to help restore the area including clearing debris from roads, assuring gas and electricity is safely turned on, sewage treatment is working properly, and more. Employer’s response plans should include how to protect their workers during the cleanup stage.
The Role of Employers and Workers’ Compensation
Employers should record on-the-job injuries reported by their workers and make sure they are aware of the Workers’ Compensation program that covers certain medical expenses and lost salary in the event of a work-related injury. Employers should also have a return-to-work program for their injured employees.
Columbia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Represent Workers Injured on the Job
Workers’ Compensation law requires timely filing of claims in order for a worker to qualify. Reporting an injury and filing a Workers’ Compensation claim might not be the first thing on your mind after being injured responding to a hurricane or other emergency. Allow one of our experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. help you obtain the benefits you deserve. For a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 803-929-3600 or 866-881-8623.
We assist injured workers throughout South Carolina, including those in Lexington County, Richland County, Sumter County, Aiken County, Florence County, Lancaster County, York County, Orangeburg County, Kershaw County, Newberry County and those in the communities of Columbia, Aiken, Camden, Sumter, Orangeburg, Greenville, Florence, Beaufort, Irmo, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, West Columbia, Rock Hill, Charleston, Lexington, Winnsboro, Summerville.