USF SafetyFlorida team supports Hurricane Ian recovery efforts

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Following the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, many communities in Florida were faced with the daunting task of rebuilding after the second deadliest hurricane on record slammed into the state.

The USF SafetyFlorida Consultation Program, housed in the USF College of Public Health, initiated outreach efforts to these devastated regions under the direction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Region IV.

They sent a total of nine consultants—four of whom were bilingual—to support recovery efforts. The goal was to eliminate serious hazards, prevent injuries and reduce loss of life among contracting crews and the public.

The USF SafetyFlorida’s strategy involved a weekly rotation/deployment of two field consultants to the Ft. Myers, Sanibel, Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte and Pine Island areas of Florida. After 100-plus safety and health interventions and training events, the team has returned.

Brian Warrick, PhD, right, at a construction site post Hurricane Ian. (Photo courtesy of USF SafetyFlorida)

“Anyone with a pickup truck and a ladder seemed to have materialized into a roofing, demolition or utility contractor,” said Dr. Brian Warrick, program director for the USF SafetyFlorida.  “We conferred with roofers, laborers, tree cutters, demolition crews and utility workers who were currently performing work in the area to determine if they were familiar with the hazards they might encounter.”

Some of those hazards, Warrick said, included heat stress, falls from a roof, insect bites, being struck by heavy equipment and handling debris.

Crew with debris from Hurricane Ian. (Photo courtesy of USF SafetyFlorida)

“If they were not familiar with the hazards, USF SafetyFlorida provided training to ensure the appropriate controls were used,” he said.  “A perfect example was halting work during a roofing operation where the employees were not tied-off, which posed a significant risk for falling, until adequate controls—for example, a scaffold, scissor lift, boom lift, tie offs, ladders, guardrails and barricades—were in place.”

During the eight weeks that the team was deployed, more than 100 interventions and training events were conducted addressing the hazards for some 1,214 workers/contractors involved with debris collection and removal, demolition, roof repair, tree cutting and utility/power restoration. More than 1,000 (90 percent) of the contractors/workers had limited English proficiency.

While crews were initially apprehensive, Warrick said, they were receptive to the interventions.

“This type of safety outreach is vital not only to the recovery efforts, but to public health as well,” he said. “When we remove workers from these types of hazards, we help employers avoid huge OSHA penalties and fines, but, more importantly, we also help minimize the likelihood of a potential injury or fatality.”

Story by Thalia Barber, USF SafetyFlorida