OSHA Offers Tornado Preparedness, Response Guidance

In the wake of a deadly tornado outbreak across eight states, OSHA's Tornado Response and Recovery webpage offers tips to keep workers safe.

Following a weekend tornado outbreak across eight states that left at least 74 people dead, OSHA is reminding employers about its Tornado Response and Recovery webpage, where they can to learn how to keep their workers in tornado-impacted areas safe.

Workers performing recovery and cleanup operations following a tornado face hazards including unstable debris piles, falling objects such as tree limbs and utility poles, and burns and electrocution from downed power lines.

Kentucky tornado
Graves County Courthouse in Mayfield, KY after after an F4 tornado cut a more than 230-mile path across southwestern Kentucky on December 10, 2021. This image is from drone footage shot by Kentucky State Senator Whitney Westerfield. (Source: Jimmy Emerson, DVM/flickr)

OSHA provides general guidelines that may be applicable to workers involved in assessing and/or cleaning up the damage to their worksite. (Some operations, including utility restoration, cleaning up spills of hazardous materials, and search and rescue, should only be conducted by workers who have the proper training, equipment and experience, OSHA warns.)

Specific hazards associated with working in the aftermath of tornadoes include:

  • Hazardous driving conditions due to slippery and/or blocked roadways
  • Slips and falls due to slippery walkways
  • Falling and flying objects such as tree limbs and utility poles
  • Sharp objects including nails and broken glass
  • Electrical hazards from downed power lines or downed objects in contact with power lines
  • Falls from heights
  • Burns from fires caused by energized line contact or equipment failure
  • Exhaustion from working extended shifts
  • Heat and dehydration

After a tornado, employers should continue to monitor local radio or television stations for emergency information and the potential for additional storms. It’s important to be aware of possible structural, electrical, or gas-leak hazards, and to report them to the proper local authorities and/or utility.

Here are some additional general precautions:

  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed power lines.
  • Wear proper clothing when walking on or near debris, including boots and gloves.
  • Be careful around sharp objects, including nails and broken glass.
  • Use the proper safety precautions when operating generators, chainsaws, or other power tools.
  • Take steps to prevent heat illnesses and dehydration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides additional precautions to take after a tornado. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also offers comprehensive Emergency Response Resources for storms, floods, and hurricanes.

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