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|The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to comply with hazard-specific safety and
health standards. In addition, pursuant to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, employers must provide their employees with a workplace
free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Emergency Preparedness Guides do not and cannot enlarge or
diminish an employer's obligations under the OSH Act.
Emergency Preparedness Guides are based on presently available information, as well as current occupational safety and health provisions
and standards. The procedures and practices discussed in Emergency Preparedness Guides may need to be modified when additional, relevant
information becomes available or when OSH Act standards are promulgated or modified.
Rescue Workers and Emergency Responders may
already have experience with entering collapsed structures resulting
from (1) construction catastrophes, (2) earthquakes, (3) fire
and (4) weather related structural failures. Weather related
structural failures typically result from rain/snow accumulations
on roofs, hurricanes, tornadoes, landslides and even avalanches.
Today, rescue workers and emergency responders also face the possibility of entering a structure
that has collapsed following a terrorist attack. Terrorist activity may add additional
hazards such as secondary devices, follow-on attack and
residual radiological, biological or chemical contamination. Historically,
terrorist activities that have resulted in collapsed structures
include crashing commercial jets into the World Trade Towers
in New York City (September 11, 2001) and vehicular bombs, such
as the one used at the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, OK
(April 19, 1995).
Regardless of the root cause of the structural failure, rescue
workers and emergency responders who enter a collapsed structure
in order to perform their duties should work safely.
What is a collapsed structure?
When internal load bearing structural elements fail, a building
will collapse into itself and exterior walls are pulled into
the falling structure. This scenario may be caused by construction
activity, an earthquake, or fire, and may result in a dense debris
field with a small footprint. Alternatively, if the structural
failure is caused by an explosion or natural forces such as weather,
the building may collapse in an outward direction, resulting in
a less dense and more scattered debris field.
Who enters a collapsed structure?
a catastrophic failure of a structure for whatever reason,
rescue workers and emergency responders may be required
to enter the collapsed structure. Emergency responders
include firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians,
construction workers and government representatives. Emergency
responders may be responsible for assisting survivors,
extinguishing fires, shutting off utilities, assessing
structural instabilities, shoring up safe paths into the
structure and assessing other hazards, such as airborne
contaminants. Rescue workers such as Urban Search and Rescue
Teams focus on finding survivors, and later removing victims
from collapsed structures. In addition, many terrorist
investigators will be on site treating the collapsed
structure as a crime scene.
Organizing Rescue Workers and Emergency Responders
What is the organizational structure for the response to these
Although these catastrophic events may initially be quite chaotic,
site management will eventually be under an Incident
Command System. Local responders and rescuers will obviously
respond first with the State requesting Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) assistance if warranted.
A trained Structures Specialist from Urban Search and Rescue will
be responsible for:
- Evaluating the immediate structural condition of the area to be entered
during rescue operations.
- Determining the appropriate type and amount of structural hazard
mitigation in order to minimize risks on site to rescue personnel.
What safety and health resources are available during a collapsed
Once the Incident Command System is
established at a collapsed structure, the Incident Commander
maintains accountability for all response personnel at the
scene. A Safety Officer may also be mobilized and
report directly to the Incident Commander. The Safety Officer is responsible for monitoring and
assessing the safety aspects of the responders during the collapsed
structure event. The Safety Officer's
responsibilities may include:
- Overseeing all safety and health aspects of response personnel
- Assuring that optimal safety and injury prevention is
- Investigating and documenting all response team injuries
- Preparing and maintaining entry permits
- Ensuring that appropriate personal protective equipment
(PPE) is used
- Developing and implementing daily health and safety plans
which address (1) sanitation, (2) hygiene, (3) PPE, (4)
Decontamination, (5) work/rest cycles, (6) acute medical
- Interviewing off-going shifts to assess developing hazards
- Assessing risk for the identified hazards; and
- Training in hazard awareness and use of PPE.
- Assessing structural instabilities
What hazards may be encountered when entering a collapsed structure?
The following hazards should be considered to protect rescue
workers and emergency responders when preparing to enter a collapsed
- Water system breaks that may flood basement areas
- Exposure to pathogens from sanitary sewer system breaks
- Exposed and energized electrical wiring
- Exposure to airborne smoke and dust (asbestos, silica,
- Exposure to bloodborne pathogens
- Exposure to hazardous materials (ammonia, battery
acid, leaking fuel, etc.)
- Natural gas leaks creating a flammable and toxic environment
- Structural instability
- Insufficient oxygen
- Confined spaces
- Slip, trip or fall hazards from holes, protruding
- Being struck by a falling object
- Proximity to heavy machinery such as cranes
- Sharp objects such as glass and debris
- Secondary explosive devices left by terrorists
- Secondary collapse from aftershock, vibration and
- Residual chemical, biological or radiological
- Unfamiliar surroundings
- Adverse weather conditions
- Noise from equipment (generators/heavy machines)