Group guards health, safety of WTC workers

Government, labor, and management join forces

A coalition of government agencies, organizations, employers, and employees has been established to help protect the safety and health of the thousands of workers at the World Trade Center disaster site.

Formalized under the WTC Emergency Partnership Agreement, the partnership was announced recently by the U.S. Department of Labor. Its members include the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA); the New York City Department of Design and Construction and the Fire Department of New York (co-incident commanders); the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York; the Building Trades Employers’ Association; the Contractors Association of Greater New York; the General Contractors Association; and the four prime contractors at the WTC site: AMEC Construction Management Inc.; Bovis Lend Lease LMB Inc.; Tully Construction Co. Inc.; and Turner/Plaza Construction Joint Venture.

The partnership agreement outlines a cooperative effort to ensure a safe work environment, including new safety and health initiatives and the establishment of a safety committee.

Many of these groups had already been working well together, but it was felt that formalizing the working relationship in a document was important, says Patricia K. Clark, regional administrator for the OSHA’s New York Region. "Basically, we had been working with all of these groups — agencies, employer and employee associations and contractors," She says. "We are committed not only to working together, but also to the same goals."

OSHA also felt it was important to have a very visible manifestation of participation from top players. "That’s why the signatories decided to go with the [Fire Department of New York] and the New York City Department of Design & Construction as co-incident commanders," she explains.

Site health emphasized

In terms of the environmental safety and health initiatives, there has been significant labor/management involvement in site health, says Clark. "Every week we have safety meetings, which include operations and safety people, OSHA and the co-incident commanders," she says.

These meetings deal with health and safety issues that have come up onsite. "It’s handled the way good site health in any industry or construction work should be handled," Clark notes. "Labor and management sit down and hash out issues." Once a month there is a leadership meeting, which involves the signatories. "There, we decide on big issues — major areas of concern," she observes.

An ongoing process

Because new issues arise as the nature of the work changes, the safety committee must be flexible and able to react to these changes. For example, it was found that the core drilling created a good bit of dust and silica, so the workers’ respiratory protection was modified accordingly. "As the workers went below grade, fall hazards became an issue," Clark recalls. "This process calls for continued vigilance, and that plays into these safety meetings." For example, she notes, while exposure assessments have not revealed any serious air quality issues so far, samples continue to be taken around the clock and discussed every week.

Safety monitoring goes on 24-7 throughout the site, and the orientation program is in full swing. "All of the people who go on site have to have the orientation," says Clark. Here, too, additional training is added as needed, such as a confined space entry program, for PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) and subway tunnels.

In fact, the entire safety and health program is constantly being re-evaluated and strengthened. "When the first one was written, no one was working below grade," Clark points out, "So we are now modifying procedures for those operations. Groups working on tunnels and utilities have also suggested modifications to reflect the changing nature of the site."

Clark says the results to date speak to the success of the program. "Overall, no other lives have been lost on the site, and we have had no serious injuries through the recovery operation," she reports.

[For more information, contact U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, 201 Varick St., Room 670, New York, NY 10014. Telephone: (212) 337-2378. OSHA web site: www.osha.gov.]