Precautions for Workers in Disaster Recovery & Emergency Response


NIOSH Update:


Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 245-0645
August 2, 2007

The rescue and recovery operations associated with the interstate highway bridge collapse on August 1 in Minneapolis, Minn., highlight the rigors of such operations, and the need to protect rescue and recovery workers from potential hazards. Generally, rescue and recovery operations involving work among structural debris and in or under water can pose risks for physical injuries, heat stress, infection, and other hazards.

Preventing work-related injuries and illnesses at rescue and recovery sites involves strategic planning to anticipate potential hazards, and strategic management of operations based on conditions at the site. Disaster sites pose a multitude of health and safety concerns. The hazards and exposures are a function of the unstable nature of the site, the potential of hazardous substances being present and the type of work being performed. An accurate assessment of all hazards may not be possible because they may not be immediately obvious or identifiable. Rescue personnel may be selecting protective measures based on limited information. In addition to the hazards of direct exposure, workers are also subject to dangers posed by the unstable physical environment, the stress of working in protective clothing, and the emotional trauma of the situation.

As a rule, strategic measures to manage potential occupational hazards at rescue and recovery sites include:

—Development of a work plan for operations, and periodic review and updating of the plan as more information about site conditions is obtained.

—Development of a site safety checklist that assigns responsibilities for safety management, and describes needed safety and health duties.

—Designation of a field team leader and development of a checklist to help the field team leader oversee the preparation, training and deployment of volunteers, enforce site control, enforce the buddy system, and notify the site safety officer or supervisor of unsafe conditions.

—Identification and management of potential hazards from debris and unstable work surfaces, noise, respirable dust, heat stress, confined spaces, chemical exposures, traumatic stress, electricity, carbon monoxide, contaminated water, and other potential hazards that may exist at the emergency site.

Further information and resources from NIOSH on emergency response are available at or call toll-free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit the NIOSH web page at

Page last reviewed: August 6, 2012