Safety in Paradise: Hurricane Aftermath

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 @ 12:04 PM gHale

Utility workers scramble to restore power after the U.S. Virgin Islands suffered through two devastating hurricanes last year.

It wasn’t that long ago when Hurricane Irma devastated U. S. Virgin Islands’ St. John and St. Thomas in early September last year.

On top of that 14 days later, Hurricane Maria ravaged St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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These storms unleashed powerful winds and heavy rainfall, tearing off roofs, downing trees, and decimating the communications and power grid across the islands.

These Category 5 hurricanes left the Virgin Islands in “total devastation,” said officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

Because of the devastating effects of Irma and Maria, the University of the Virgin Islands, Safety in Paradise (SIP), On-Site Consultation Program could not perform normal consultation services for months.

Instead of waiting for everything to return to normal, and recognizing the need for safety and health assistance after the hurricanes, SIP reached out to businesses by car and sometimes on foot, by email and telephone, and via social media to assist local workplaces impacted by the storms.

They knew the safety and health of workers was paramount to getting the islands back up and running.

They travelled throughout devastated communities, stopping at worksites to speak with employers and their employees, providing safety and health assistance and information, and identifying and addressing hazards.

SIP consultants also provided important information to individual entrepreneurs and citizens who reached out to SIP for safety and health guidance.

By collaborating with stakeholders, such as the Small Business Development Center and Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association, SIP provided informal training and disseminated important safety and health information to their constituencies.

Information on such topics as working safely during hurricane cleanup operations, using proper mold remediation techniques, working safely with portable generators, and avoiding electrical hazards was provided through meetings and articles.

During the disaster recovery period, SIP consultants provided direct assistance to over 50 businesses, reached over 600 employees, and removed 150 employees from hazardous situations.

Some of the hazardous situations that employees were removed from included electrical, fall hazards from aerial lifts, improper use of ladders, carbon monoxide from incorrectly vented portable generators, exposure to air contaminants caused by incorrect use of respirators, work zone hazards, and lack of personal protective equipment.

Consultants also provided OSHA publications on hurricane-related subjects and brochures on SIP services to past clients and building supply stores in St. Thomas and St. Croix. As the Virgin Islands continue to progress in its hurricane recovery efforts, SIP consultants will be there to provide workplaces with safety and health assistance.

OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small- and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites.

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