Safety While Getting Down and Dirty

February 12, 2016

In 2012, Super Storm Sandy just narrowly missed Massachusetts, instead causing tragic deaths and damage in the billions of dollars in the metro New York region. In 2015, it was the Bay State’s turn, as it was walloped with a historic winter, causing over 210 roofs to collapse and the deaths of three workers. For both storms, low-wage workers were hired to clean up the damage, a line of work known as Mucking and Gutting.

With climate change making storms of this magnitude, and the resulting damage to homes and businesses, more commonplace, MassCOSH, the International Chemical Worker's Union Council, and The New England Consortium are working to ensure workers who are hired to clean and restore property are trained on how to be safe on the job.

“This was an eye opener,” said Consuelo, a participant in a training that MassCOSH piloted in December for janitors, construction workers, and others who may find themselves assigned to clean properties after storm damage.  “We have all these dangers around us, in our house and at work.  If we get sick, we never realize it’s connected to these dangers”.

Consuelo was one of eight “testers” who went through and offered feedback on the training.

“Most of these workers are making around minimum wage, and we have seen that time and time again that the health and safety of these low-wage workers is not given top priority,” said MassCOSH Worker Center organizer and trainer Milagros Barreto.

The International Chemical Workers Union Council partnered with MassCOSH to reach and educate a population that was a priority for them.  “Many post-disaster cleanup workers are Spanish-speakers and often day laborers sent to do clean-up with no training or preparation,” said Luis Vazquez, the union’s education coordinator.  “It’s important that we provide training and materials that can be easily understood, using the terminology of the community.”

The training also discusses the natural hazards that can occur when a building is open to the elements, including mold hazards and the health effects of chemicals used to remove the invasive organism.

“Mold spores that develop after certain materials get wet can cause immediate health issues for those with asthma, and negative long term effects for those with repeated exposure,” explains MassCOSH trainer Rick Rabin. “But on the flip side, there are also health issues related to the chemicals used to clean up mold, especially the cleaning agents bleach and ammonia.”

“I thought that because Clorox was so strong, it was the best product to use,” said Consuelo. “I didn’t realize that it could make my health problems get worse.”

As wild weather continues to make headlines, MassCOSH is working hard to ensure that those who are sent in once the skies have cleared can return home to their families healthy, safe, and whole.
MassCOSH’s Muck and Gut training is still in its pilot phase. Those interested in learning more about it or about how MassCOSH is working to make worker health and safety part of climate change policies, please email