Safety and Health Checklist for Voluntary and Community-Based Organizations Engaged in Disaster Recovery Demolition and Construction Activities

The extensive destruction caused by hurricanes along the Gulf Coast concentrated a great deal of attention on natural disaster response and recovery operations. Although recent activities have focused primarily on hurricanes, many response and recovery issues apply to other natural disasters as well. Since disaster recovery efforts put responders at risk for developing illnesses and injuries, one of these issues is to ensure the safety and health of those who participate in disaster recovery activities.

The efforts of voluntary and community-based organizations are crucial to the recovery and rebuilding process following natural disasters. It is important for these organizations to promote the health and safety of their work teams. The purpose of this document is to provide voluntary and community-based organizations with a checklist outlining some of the hazards frequently encountered during disaster response and recovery operations. Since this checklist cannot include every possible hazard, each organization should utilize the checklist as a guideline and incorporate the specific hazards of their work sites, as well as the hazards that may be due to climate conditions and the environment. All work activities should be conducted under the direction of a competent person trained in workplace safety and health who can recognize hazards, act to minimize or eliminate them, and provide instruction to the work teams.

The checklist is accompanied by a list of resources to aid these organizations in planning disaster recovery training programs. These resources may also be used by teams in the field to access additional information on many of the hazards associated with demolition and construction operations after natural disasters.

This Compliance Assistance product is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. The Compliance Assistance product is advisory in nature, informational in content, and is intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. Pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must comply with safety and health standards promulgated by OSHA or by a State with an OSHA-approved State Plan. In addition, pursuant to Section 5(a)(1), the General Duty Clause of the Act, employers must provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Employers can be cited for violating the General Duty Clause if there is a recognized hazard and they do not take reasonable steps to prevent or to abate the hazard. However, failure to implement these recommendations is not, in itself, a violation of the General Duty Clause. Citations can only be based on standards, regulations, and the General Duty Clause.

General Construction, Demolition and Debris Cleanup

Voluntary and community-based organizations should ensure that their personnel:

  • Have a current tetanus vaccination before participating in disaster recovery or rehabilitation activities.
  • Do not have any preexisting health conditions that may affect their ability to perform manual labor.
  • Limit exposure to dusty conditions during demolition activities. Respiratory hazards in dusty conditions could include asbestos, lead and silica. Homes and structures built before 1982 are presumed to contain asbestos.
  • Are provided with a complete respiratory protection program as required by OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134; 29 CFR 1926.103) if exposure to conditions that necessitate the use of respirators is unavoidable.

Voluntary and community-based organizations should:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment at work sites to determine necessary PPE and need for workers qualified to work with specific hazards such as electrical and structural.
  • Protect their work teams by providing necessary personal protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, hard hats, high-visibility work vests/clothing and hearing protection. Provide snake-bite-proof or resistant boots if teams are working in areas that may contain poisonous snakes.
  • Provide their work teams with first-aid kits and fire extinguishers.
  • Provide a responsible and knowledgeable team leader to supervise work teams at all times.
  • Ensure that there is a working telephone or cellular phone on the worksite along with a list of emergency contact numbers. The team leader should call into a central base at designated times during the day to report on conditions at the site.
    • Provide work teams with maps or GPS systems of their work area so that they are able to give their location to firefighters, police and first responders in the event of an emergency.
  • Ensure that a competent person evaluates the structural stability of buildings when access is necessary. A competent person is able to recognize existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions and has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.
  • Ensure that a competent person inspects the work site to locate overhead and downed power lines to prevent electrocutions when removing tree branches and other debris.
  • Train work teams to work safely in proximity of power lines and on the precautions necessary when erecting scaffolding and raising or lowering ladders.
  • Limit the operation of dangerous equipment to adults. For a suggested list of prohibited equipment for youth to operate see the Fair Labor Standards Act statement on page seven.
  • Ensure that worksites have a cleanup area with soap and water available for handwashing. Provide a waterless alcohol-based hand rub if water is not available.
  • Provide work teams with drinking water and ensure availability of toilet facilities.

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Use caution when walking over debris fields since high winds and flooding can reduce the stability of structures and walkways.
  • Wear long pants, socks, long sleeves, and heavy work gloves when cleaning up debris.
  • Wear sturdy work boots (preferably steel-toed; no open toe shoes) at all times.
  • Wear rubber boots or overshoes that can be washed or decontaminated or use disposable shoe covers when working in an area contaminated with mold or floodwater.
  • Use kneepads when installing flooring.
  • Use teams of two or more persons to move large, bulky or heavy objects.
  • Use carts and dollies to move heavy objects whenever possible.
  • Refrain from entering damaged structures unless evaluated by a competent person and deemed safe to enter.

Electrical and Gas Hazards

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Take caution and treat all electrical lines, wires, equipment and fixtures as if they are energized until proven otherwise.
  • Make sure that electricity is turned off before starting demolition activities.
  • Use a lockout/tagout system to reduce the risk of electrocution when installing electrical wiring and fixtures. Use a qualified electrician for electrical installation.
  • Make sure that gas is turned off before conducting demolition activities.
  • Immediately evacuate buildings if a gas leak or odor is detected, and notify the site supervisor or team leader.

Respiratory Hazards

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Operate gasoline, propane and diesel-powered equipment (such as portable generators, power washers, compressors and pumps) only in well-ventilated outdoor areas to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide gas.
  • Tear off and remove drywall in pieces as large as possible to limit the amount of airborne drywall dust.
  • Use NIOSH-approved disposable filtering facepiece respirators (dust masks) as needed in tasks that generate dust.
  • Use water spray or mist to suppress dust generation and reduce the amount of airborne particulate matter, especially during operations that may create a lot of dust.
  • Stay upwind of or away from dust-generating activities, in particular involving crystalline silica-containing materials like concrete, brick, tile, drywall, mortar, sand, or stone.
  • Identify building materials such as painted surfaces and pipes that may contain lead. Use special equipment or methods to decrease lead-dust generation such as local exhaust ventilation, dust collection systems (on power tools), and good housekeeping practices.
  • If an area is known or suspected to contain asbestos, have an assessment done by a competent individual before entering the area; if asbestos is present, wait until it is removed or contained.
  • Notify the supervisor immediately if asbestos is identified at the site and stop work until it has been removed or contained.
  • Refrain from conducting demolition operations in areas with extensive mold buildup.

Personal Decontamination

Voluntary and community-based organization work teams should be trained to:

  • Always wash their hands with soap and water before eating, drinking, smoking, applying lip balm or cosmetics to prevent contamination of their mouth, nose or eyes with hazardous materials or infectious agents. Use a waterless alcohol-based hand cleaner if water is not available.
  • Shower and change into clean clothes at the end of each workday.
  • Separate work clothes from their general laundry to prevent exposing family members to hazardous materials and infectious agents.

Power Tools

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Inspect electric cords and equipment to ensure that they are in good condition and free of defects, especially when working in damp or wet conditions. Verify operation of safety features before use.
  • Know how to properly operate each power tool they use.
  • Ensure guarding on power tools is in good working order and always used.
  • Inspect all extension cords, remove from service those that are damaged, cut or have exposed wiring and inner insulation.
  • Set down a dry board or platform when using power tools in muddy or wet conditions.
  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) or double-insulated power tools that are approved by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory. (NRTL). NRTLs are OSHA- recognized organizations which determine that specific equipment and materials meet consensus-based standards of safety.
  • Organize cords when using power tools and make sure that the work area is adequately lighted to reduce the risk of trip hazards.
  • Not wear loose-fitting or baggy clothing when using power tools.
  • Never operate electrical equipment while standing in water.

Motor Vehicles

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Ensure vehicles are inspected before use and are functioning safely.
  • Use spotters to assist drivers in backing up vehicles with obstructed rear views.
  • Use seat belts in all vehicles and all seats.
  • Not operate machinery unless they are authorized and have received specific training.
  • Not drive/operate machinery when fatigued.
  • Not work behind vehicles.


Work teams should be trained to:

  • Use hearing protection when noise levels exceed 85 decibels. Generally, if you cannot hold a normal conversation at arm's length due to noise, then you should be wearing hearing protection.
  • Reduce noise levels by operating motorized equipment, such as generators, behind a barrier (while maintaining adequate ventilation).

Roofing and Working from Heights

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Wear shoes with nonslip rubber soles and adequate tread.
  • Use fall protection systems: guardrails, safety nets or fall arrest systems as needed.
  • Identify and mark areas of structural weakness.
  • Keep tools and materials organized to avoid trip hazards.
  • Not work on a roof during windy or rainy weather due to increased slip/fall risks.
  • Not work on a roof if lightning is taking place.
  • Inspect ladders for defects before using them.
  • Ensure that ladders are on stable ground and secured to the side of the building.
  • Keep their center of gravity at the center of the ladder without leaning or reaching to the sides.
  • Not stand on the top two rungs of a ladder.
  • Ensure that ladders are non-conductive.

Heat Stress

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Take frequent short breaks in cool shade when working in hot, humid conditions.
  • Drink small amounts of water frequently, e.g., one cup every 15-20 minutes to replace fluid loss from sweating.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing when possible. Wear a hat and UV-absorbent sunglasses.
  • Not drink alcohol and avoid caffeinated drinks and heavy meals.
  • Recognize the signs of heat-related illness and know what actions to take.

Insects and Animals

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Conduct an assessment of the animals/insects/reptiles common to the area and take necessary precautions to take to protect themselves against injury.
  • Watch for snakes, especially in debris. Wear heavy gloves and watch where they place their hands and feet.
  • Use insect repellants containing DEET or Picaridin and re-apply as necessary.
  • Cover exposed skin when possible to avoid insect bites.
  • Inspect themselves for ticks at the end of each work shift.
  • Avoid contact with and not attempt to restrain wild or stray animals.
  • Report insect and animal bites to their supervisor since medical attention may be necessary.

Chemical Use/Exposure

Work teams should be trained to:

  • Avoid exposure to chemicals and not handle unknown chemicals.
  • Understand the hazards of known chemicals and how to avoid exposure.
  • Use appropriate PPE such as gloves, eye/face protection and aprons as needed if in contact with chemicals.
  • Use and ensure a proper eye wash and/or shower is available if contact with corrosives is possible.

Employing Youth in Construction and Demolition under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act, (FLSA), establishes federal minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and youth employment standards for employers who are subject to the FLSA. When an employment relationship exists, and the employee is engaged in work that is subject to the FLSA, then the FLSA youth employment provisions are applicable. The youth employment provisions of the FLSA permit minors 16 and 17 to work in the construction industry and on construction sites, but there are several jobs or tasks that are deemed to be too hazardous for those under the age of 18 to perform. Hazardous occupations include working in demolition, excavation, roofing, and operating a forklift or certain power-driven woodworking machines and saws.
  • Under the FLSA, an individual who volunteers or donates his services, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives and without contemplation of pay, is not considered to be an employee of the religious, charitable or similar non-profit organization that receives the services.
  • Although federal youth employment provisions are not applicable to volunteers, volunteer agencies should check with state and local authorities concerning any safety and health protections that may be applicable to youth.

Disaster Response and Recovery Resource Links

American Psychological Association (APA)
The APA provides information on managing stress and coping with traumatic events.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
This site is intended to help increase the nation's ability to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies.
This CDC site contains information on preparing for severe weather and responding to natural disasters.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
This site contains information on preparing for and responding to several types of emergencies.
This NIOSH site provides information on responding to disasters, managing disaster sites and personal protective equipment needed on disaster sites.

National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH)
The NCHH provides "A Field Guide for Clean-up of Flooded Homes," which contains information on the hazards associated with rehabilitating a flood- damaged home and the precautions to take when performing these activities.

National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
This "Katrina Booklet" contains general information on many hazards that volunteers should be aware of when responding to natural disasters.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
This site provides information to assist responders in quickly establishing priorities and undertaking necessary actions in emergency situations.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA provides information on topics related to stress and mental health following disasters and traumatic experiences.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
This site contains information on removing mold, repairing damaged homes and methods of flood-proofing homes.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
HUD provides a field guide for painting, home maintenance and renovation work in homes containing lead-based paint.

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
The YouthRules! site provides information on the federal youth employment provisions.

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Employment Standards Administration (ESA)
Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
This site contains information on many core federal labor standards topics, including youth employment, minimum wage, overtime, and family and medical leave.

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The OSHA Directorate of Training and Education develops, directs, oversees, manages and ensures implementation of OSHA's national training and education policies and procedures.
This OSHA outreach program provides training and certificates to disaster site trainers and personnel.
This site contains informational fact sheets on various topics such as electrical safety, PPE and ergonomics.
OSHA's Wildfires page provides information to keep workers safe during cleanup and recovery operations.
OSHA created the Hurricane eMatrix to provide disaster response workers with recommended best practices on specific tasks in hurricane response and recovery operations.
This site contains links to several topics pertaining to hurricane recovery safety.
This site contains a list of OSHA's QuickCards™ which provide information on a variety of topics such as flood cleanup, heat stress and respiratory hazards.
OSHA provides information on the safety and health of young workers working on construction sites.
This "Young Workers" site provides teens, parents and employers with information to help keep teenagers safe on jobsites.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The EPA provides guidance on preparing for and dealing with the waste generated by natural disasters. Natural disasters can cause damage to the environment, generate large amounts of solid debris, and release unwanted pollutants into the environment.