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OSHA's Peoria, Illinois Area Office Helps Protect Workers After Springfield Tornadoes

Downed power lines after tornadoes

Downed power lines after tornadoes.

Example of damage caused by tornadoes to homes and buildings

Example of damage caused by tornadoes to homes and buildings.

OSHA's Region V Area Office in Peoria, Illinois responded quickly to protect workers and others after two tornadoes stuck Springfield, Illinois on March 12, 2006. The tornadoes caused extensive damage and created hazardous working conditions for contractors and workers engaged in cleanup, repair, and reconstruction operations.

The morning after the tornadoes touched down, Becky Styron, a Compliance Safety and Health Officer with the Peoria Area Office, met with the city's emergency response officials and accompanied them on a tour of the damaged areas. They saw numerous downed electrical lines, piles of debris, and extensive damage to residential and commercial buildings. Ms. Styron, a member of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, observed that while larger companies performing cleanup and repair work were generally using appropriate safety precautions, many small contractors were not following proper safety procedures.

Based on these observations of the extensive damage and hazardous working conditions, the Peoria Area Office sent six people to Springfield's Emergency Operation Center on March 14 to offer assistance. The OSHA team met with Springfield's Assistant Police Chief, who was acting as the city's Incident Commander (IC). The OSHA officials explained that they would offer technical assistance for work related to the tornado and would not issue citations during the initial emergency response. The IC asked the OSHA officials to help ensure the safety of city employees working on tornado response activities.

"We sent teams of safety professionals to Springfield to advise contractors and others on safe work practices," said OSHA's Peoria Area Office Director John Newquist. "We approached workers who were exposed to falls, working with chain saws, wood chippers and electrical equipment, and reminded them of the safety hazards associated with their activities."

The OSHA team split into two groups to focus on the two hardest hit areas of the city. From March 14-17, the teams conducted 92 interventions to address hazardous working conditions and identified 151 hazards that affected over 600 employees. Most employers agreed to get proper equipment or otherwise protect their workers. Some of the hazards identified by the OSHA teams included fall hazards from aerial lifts and roofs, electrical hazards, working from the bucket of a front-end loader, working in damaged structures, lack of hard hats, lack of proper personal protective equipment for workers using chain saws, and cranes that were not properly set up.

For example, one OSHA team member talked with a crew cutting a fallen tree and discovered that the crew did not have hearing protection, chaps, or eye and face protection. The crew called its office to report OSHA's recommendations and agreed to get the proper protective equipment. Another OSHA team member showed workers who were using aerial lifts how to wear body harnesses. At an intervention at a building with a collapsed roof, an OSHA team member discussed the need to have the breakers off in case of power restoration and warned about electrical hazards from fallen power lines.

The Area Office continued its outreach efforts after the initial emergency response by providing free training sessions to 22 contractors at a local community college on April 4 and 5, 2006. The contractors learned how to avoid unsafe conditions during tornado cleanup and repair work and received refresher training on safe construction work practices.

OSHA received positive coverage in the local media for its assistance during the tornado response and cleanup activities. The Springfield Star Journal newspaper provided coverage and local television stations ran spots on the daily media briefings. During one briefing, the Mayor of Springfield thanked OSHA for its assistance in protecting workers and others. At another briefing, Congressman Ray Lahood (R-IL) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) expressed their appreciation for OSHA's efforts and the city's Director of Public Works noted that OSHA's presence helped ensure that no Public Works employees were injured during the initial response.

As of April 2006.

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