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Trees and power lines snapped under the weight of heavy snow
Trees and power lines snapped under the weight of heavy snow.
OSHAs Region II Area Offices in Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, responded quickly to protect workers and others after a major snow storm hit the Buffalo area on October 13, 2006. The heavy snowfall and strong winds caused widespread power outages and extensive tree damage.

"Quite frankly, the area was caught flat-footed," said Art Dube, Area Director of OSHAs Buffalo Area Office. "Weve never had such a significant snow fall so early in the season with the leaves still on the trees. Tree limbs and power lines couldnt withstand the weight of the snow caused by this early lake effect storm."

Staff from OSHAs Buffalo and Syracuse Area Offices provided compliance assistance to utility contractors (primarily electric, cable, and telephone utilities) and tree trimming/hauling contractors who were sent to western New York to assist in the cleanup. OSHA staff distributed numerous QuickCards and other OSHA publications to these contractors. The QuickCards covered portable generator safety, chain saw safety, aerial lifts, fall protection tips, work zone traffic safety, demolition safety, hand hygiene, and other topics.

A utility worker works to restore power.
A utility worker works to restore power.

Staff from the Buffalo Area Office provided technical assistance to the New York State Department of Labors Public Employee Safety and Health Division, which was designated as the safety officer for the incident response. The OSHA staff assisted in developing safety bulletins that were included in the daily incident action plans, coordinated with utility companies and the National Guard to establish training opportunities at utility staging areas, and coordinated with the safety officer to identify high hazard areas where focused interventions could be performed. The OSHA staff also worked with utility companies and national, state, and local government agencies to identify significant hazards (e.g., power line hazards and placement of debris in tree removal operations) and develop and implement abatement strategies.

The Buffalo and Syracuse Area Offices also sent out several strike teams and task forces to help ensure that there were no additional injuries, illnesses, or fatalities after the initial storm damage. The teams and task forces also provided technical assistance and helped ensure that hazards were corrected. The Area Offices estimated that they conducted 131 interventions that affected 549 employees. As a result of these interventions, 322 hazards were identified and corrected. Common hazards included employees operating chainsaws with little or no personal protective equipment, operation of portable generators in enclosed spaces, employees working from aerial lifts with no fall protection equipment, and inadequate or no traffic work zones. During these interventions, the strike teams and task forces helped to educate employers and employees on the hazards and provided assistance on how to eliminate or control these hazards.

Additionally, an OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer from the Syracuse Area Office conducted several seminars after the storm on chain saw safety for utility contractors, tree trimmers, and the general public. Over 500 people attended these seminars, which received coverage by local media outlets. The Area Office reported that OSHA received very positive feedback from the people who attended the seminars.

"Im proud of all of the OSHA employees who assisted in this effort," said Art Dube. "We made a significant difference to not only workers who came to help in the recovery effort, but also to homeowners who had to operate chain saws but may have had little or no experience with a chain saw. They all were able to get good information from OSHA about the hazards likely to be encountered or actually observed."

For more information, please contact Gordon Deleys, Compliance Assistance Specialist in OSHAs Buffalo Area Office.