Workers’ Comp for Storm Clean-Up

Natural disasters are some of the most devastating events that occur. They can be life-changing, requiring emergency services for many people. Lives and homes are upended, and people are left to start all over. Hurricanes and tropical cyclones top the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history, with Hurricane Katrina costing a whopping 172.5 billion dollars in damages. In New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy cost 75.4 billion dollars.[1]

Fortunately, there are those willing to sacrifice their health so that life can continue for the thousands, and possibly millions of people affected by hurricanes. These are the workers that do the difficult and dirty job of cleaning up after a storm.

Storm cleanup can be demanding and treacherous. For those brave enough to help rebuild communities, you might be working near the Army National Guard, who is tasked with disaster recovery. There are many types of hazards disaster clean-up workers and emergency responders face on the job, including:

Potential Hazards

Floodwater

Floodwater is often mixed with untreated sewage and contains harmful intestinal bacteria such as E. Coli, Salmonella, and Shigella. If exposed, you could be infected with typhoid, Hepatitis A, or tetanus. Contaminants and objects in floodwater may include human and livestock waste, coal ash waste, and downed power lines.[2] Floodwater can also contain industrial chemicals. Besides that, each year, more deaths are attributed to drowning in flood waters than any other storm related hazard.

Mold

Mold often accumulates in buildings that have been flooded. Mold and moist/wet surfaces go together, and can cause infections, allergy symptoms, and produce toxins.

Electrical Shock

Electrical shocks can cause burns and electrocutions. If there are downed power lines, your safest bet is to assume that they are live (energized). Tree limbs can be a source of electrical shock if they meet a downed power line.

Toxic Waste

Even if you are using the necessary personal protective equipment, you still may be exposed to toxic waste such as chemicals and mold if you do not follow safety procedures.

Structural Damage

Working in buildings with structural damage can pose serious risk. You may not be completely certain that the structure is stable or safe to be in. There may also be holes in the floors you will need to be aware of.

Falls

Cleanup workers may risk falling from aerial lifts, ladders, roofs, and other elevated work surfaces.[3]

Trenches

Trenches and excavations can cause cave-ins, frequently due to an unemployed safety system.[4] About 25 workers are killed each year due to trench-related accidents.[5]

Mosquitoes

Areas containing stagnant water are favorable grounds for mosquitoes, which can increase the risk for mosquito-born diseases, including encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Animal and Insect Bites

Displaced creatures may be present in your surroundings, including rodents, where you could be exposed to rabies if bitten. Other displaced animals to be careful of include snakes and spiders.

Asbestos and Silica

Asbestos fibers are dangerous to inhale and can increase your risk of developing mesothelioma. Construction workers may be exposed to silica dust, which can cause silicosis.

Gas Leak

A natural gas leak can cause explosions and fires and are poisonous to inhale.

Wet Floors

Slippery or wet floors can increase the risk of a slip, trip or fall. These are some of the most common injuries among workers in the United States.

Portable Generators

After a disaster, power is often cut from homes, and the homeowner may rely on a portable generator. Portable generators are not always used appropriately. If used in an enclosed space such as a garage, a portable generator can potentially poison you through carbon monoxide. Portable generators can also cause fires, electrocutions, and contact burns.[6]

Vehicles

Workers may be struck by moving vehicles carried by floodwaters.

Hidden Debris

Not everything is visible to the naked eye. You may encounter hidden debris that can lead to cuts or lacerations, increasing your risk for an infection.

Downed Trees

Removing downed or broken trees is a common task after storm cleanup. Be wary of falling branches.

Heat Stress

You may be exposed to extreme heat which can lead to a variety of health ailments, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Psychological Injury

First responders and other workers may encounter seriously injured persons, and even death on the job. Families who have lost loved ones or their home may be unable to move forward. The trauma and emotional toll on people can be difficult to process. Exposure towards this environment can lead to depression, anxiety, and PTSD.[7][8][9]

Additional Information

As a storm cleanup worker, whether you are a contractor or employee, you are faced with a dangerous environment that commands your utmost attention. A distraction could mean serious injury, or even death. This is a job one should not take lightly, and not many people would want to do. Those that do take it upon themselves to clean up and rebuild are often heroes of communities that may be demoralized after such a devastating event.

After a disaster, employers may use their own workers for cleanup services instead of hiring a remediation company. If this occurs, it is normal to see a spike in workers’ comp claims in a storm-affected area because such workers are usually not professionally trained.[10] If you are not a designated storm cleanup worker but were requested by your employer to clean up, and you were injured in the process, you will want to seek legal counsel in a workers’ compensation lawyer.

Why Choose Us?

At Livingston DiMarzio, LLP, we understand that accidents happen. There is always a risk for human error and misjudgment, even when doing one’s best to follow safety procedures. Even if you did not follow safety procedures or wear the appropriate personal protective equipment, however, we are here for you. Our storm cleanup injury lawyers share the responsibility of representing individuals that are just trying to get back on their feet.

We know that taking that big leap forward in choosing an attorney to represent you can mean a lot. That is why our disaster cleanup lawyers make the process easy for you, including walking you through each step of the workers’ compensation process, so you can be confident about where you are. Give us a call today for a free consultation at (973) 943-4106.

 

[1] Statista. (2021, July 1). Most Expensive Natural Disasters in the United States as of June 2021. Statista. http://www.statista.com/statistics/744015/most-expensive-natural-disasters-usa/.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, October 15). Flood waters or standing waters. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/extreme-weather/floods-standingwater.html.

[3] United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Keeping Workers Safe during Disaster Cleanup and Recovery. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3698.pdf.

[4] United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Keeping Workers Safe during Disaster Cleanup and Recovery. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3698.pdf.

[5] Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America. (n.d.). Trenches and excavations. LHSFNA. https://www.lhsfna.org/index.cfm/occupational-safety-and-health/trenches-and-excavations/.

[6] Treisman, R. (2019, December 4). Carbon monoxide poisonings spike after big storms. portable generators are a culprit. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/12/04/784279242/carbon-monoxide-poisoning-from-portable-generators-proves-predictable-and-deadly.

[7] Great American Insurance Company. (n.d.). Hurricane Clean up and Recovery. Great American Insurance Group. http://www.greatamericaninsurancegroup.com/content-hub/news-details/hurricane-clean-up-and-recovery.

[8] National Employment Law Project. (2018, September 18). Worker safety During cleanup and recovery from hurricanes. National Employment Law Project. http://www.nelp.org/publication/worker-safety-cleanup-recovery-hurricanes/.

[9] Insurance Council of Texas. (n.d.). Workers’ Compensation Safety and Hurricanes, Tropical Storms and Floods. Insurance Council of Texas. http://www.insurancecouncil.org/workers-compensation-safety-and-hurricanes/.

[10] Childers, A. (2017, September 25). Post-disaster impact on workers’ comp a mixed bag. Risk & Insurance. https://riskandinsurance.com/post-disaster-impact-workers-comp-mixed-bag/.

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