Worker protections must be enhanced as a key component in Homeland Security

The main building of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. | Courtesy of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

A report released Sept. 10 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) says that the government must provide better training and updated safety guidelines for emergency personnel and rescue workers who respond to large-scale emergencies.

The report lays out several improvements that must be made to protect emergency and rescue workers from needless injuries, especially to the eyes and lungs. For example:

• First-on-the-scene emergency response personnel, such as police and firefighters, need to be trained in and provided with appropriate protective gear, particularly respiratory protection. Major urban centers should identify sources of additional, back-up equipment in the face of a major attack or disaster.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration should develop safety regulations tailored to the challenges of large terrorist events, and include the revised guidelines in Federal Emergency Management Agency and other response plans.
• Firm guidelines for ending the search and rescue phase after 12 to 15 days are needed.
• Worker protection standards must be enforced.
• With personnel at the scene of the World Trade Center numbering more than 5,000, command, control, communication and coordination were extremely difficult. These should be improved under a unified command.

The report concludes with recommended elements of a training preparedness initiative by the NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program.

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