An oil tanker runs aground, spilling millions of gallons of fuel
oil into a populated area. An explosion at a manufacturing plant
sends deadly levels of toxic fumes spewing into the atmosphere.
An earthquake ruptures chemical tanks, releasing pollutants into
the air and groundwater system. A terrorist deliberately releases
a toxic substance in a populated area.
A vital member of the U.S. National Response Team, OSHA stands
ready to help respond to oil spills and chemical, radiological,
and gas and hazardous liquid pipeline releases.
Who gets the call? The Environ-mental Protection Agency? The Federal
Bureau of Investigation? The Federal Emergency Management Agency?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration?
OSHA? Many people don't realize that OSHA is a vital player
on the National Response Team, the federal government's mechanism
for responding to emergency releases of hazardous substances, pollutants,
or contaminants. As the Department of Labor representative on the
team, OSHA joins 15 other federal agencies that share responsibility,
interests, and expertise in various aspects of emergency response
to pollutant release and cleanup.
Federal law requires the responsible party to report oil spills,
gas and hazardous liquid pipeline releases, chemical releases, and
radiological releases to the National Response Center, or NRC. The
communications and coordination core of the National Response System,
the NRC is staffed 24 hours a day to receive reports from around
the country via a toll-free number, (800) 424-8802. The staff relays
the reports to the appropriate federal coordinators at the scene
and state emergency responders.
Ruth McCully, director of OSHA's Directorate of Science, Technology,
and Medicine, and the Department of Labor representative on the
National Response Team, said first responders who rush to the scene
of an emergency to contain a release, as well as the recovery and
cleanup personnel who follow, face a wide range of hazards. "These
can include exposure to chemical, biological, and radiological hazards;
skin contact with dangerous substances; and physical dangers from
building cave-ins, improperly protected excavations, heavy machinery,
and material handling hazards," she said.
In the event of a catastrophic emergency, McCully said OSHA's
most valuable contribution would be to promptly identify and evaluate
these and other hazards that could affect emergency workers'
safety and health. For example, OSHA could be called to collect
and analyze samples to determine chemical exposures to workers
removing hazardous materials from the scene. In addition, OSHA
would investigate all incidents in which a worker was killed or
three or more workers hospitalized.
In an emergency, OSHA representatives in the 10 regions, the Caribbean,
and Oceania (the Pacific Basin) would likely be called to address
the safety and health needs in their areas. These representatives,
who are assigned to regional response teams, would provide direct
support to the onsite incident commander who oversees the entire
response effort and is directly responsible for safety and health.
Providing a coordinated response in the event of an emergency
requires extensive planning at the international, national, regional,
and local levels. The National Response Team and its subcommittees
meet regularly to address emergency preparedness and response
policies, resources, training, coordination, technical and legal
issues, and the safety and health of responders.
The team also co-chairs the International Joint Advisory Team
in Canada and the International Joint Response Team in Mexico
to help establish contingency plans for inland incidents along
the U.S. borders. The regional response teams work directly with
state and local governments to help them prepare, plan, and train
for emergency response.
OSHA is a key player in two critical committees of the NRT: the
Response Committee, which assesses the effectiveness of responses
to hazardous materials releases; and the Preparedness Committee,
which promotes continued enhancements to response capabilities
at the national, regional, state, and local levels. OSHA assures
that workers' safety and health are properly addressed in
any response plan, procedure, guide, policy, or exercise.
OSHA is a valuable partner in developing critical interagency
response and preparedness guidance and reports and identifying
gaps, overlaps, and conflicts among response plans. In this role,
the agency heightens awareness of the unique unsafe conditions
that first responders and other workers must endure during emergencies
and the required cleanup efforts. JSHQ
Abadir is a staff member in OSHA's Directorate of Science,
Technology, and Medicine; the DOL alternate representative for
the National Response Team; and the agency representative in the
interagency preparedness and response committees.