Emergency Repairs Don’t Override Safety Precautions

What happens when there’s an emergency or natural disaster that affects water or power? Utility workers become the heroes of the day, getting things turned back on as quickly as possible. But the rush to mitigate the effects of a disaster can be fatal if it means workers are sent out to a job site without proper training. In 2012, there was a tragic accident involving an employee of Missouri American Water (a subsidiary of American Water which also operates utilities in California).

Rules Got Relaxed During Ongoing Repair Work

You may remember the gigantic EF5 tornado that destroyed homes and infrastructure throughout Joplin in 2011. A year later, American Water was still trying to rebuild the water system and reroute water lines. This project involved cutting sections of ancient cast-iron pipe, a tough job under any circumstances. One employee was killed when he lost control of a gasoline-powered saw. This accident occurred because the pipe wasn’t supported on both ends during cutting. The pieces shifted, pinched the cutting wheel, and caused the saw to kick back.

Penalties of $140,000 are proposed for the employer’s alleged willful violation of safety regulations. OSHA points out in the citation that both the manufacturer’s instructions for use of the saw and the employer’s own written safety procedures dictate that pipes be supported on both ends during cutting to prevent exactly this kind of accident. Getting in a rush to complete restoration work is no excuse for not controlling workplace hazards and ensuring workers are following safety protocol.

Are You Prepared to Keep Workers Safe in Disaster Zones?

Public agencies, especially those that have a hand in maintaining and rebuilding infrastructure, should pay attention to reducing hazards during emergency repair work.

  • Does your workplace safety program include natural or manmade disaster-readiness?
  • Do you know how to evaluate hazards that may be present in a disaster zone compared to those at a typical work site?
  • What engineering controls will you use to limit or eliminate hazards before sending workers in to do repairs?
  • Do you have personal protective equipment available that would allow employees to work under unusual conditions?
  • Are you prepared to provide refresher training before assigning employees to work sites for emergency repairs?

Contact DKF to review your workplace safety program and expand your level of preparedness.