According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), "an average of 1,253 tornadoes occur in the United States each year. In fact, tornadoes have been documented in every state of the United States, and on every continent, except for Antarctica. The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) states the peak “tornado season” for the southern Plains (e.g., Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas) is from May into early June. On the Gulf coast, it is earlier in the spring. In the northern Plains and upper Midwest (North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota), tornado season is in June or July. The NOAA states that even if you’re in an area that does not frequently get tornados, when the atmospheric conditions are exactly right, the occurrence of a tornadic storm is possible. So, if you work in the United States, there's a good chance that your state, and even workplace, could experience a tornado. That’s what happened Wednesday evening, when fierce thunderstorms from remnants of Hurricane Ida generated three tornadoes in New Jersey, along with four twisters in nearby eastern Pennsylvania. New Jersey Weather said one of those tornadoes was powerful enough to be classified as an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita intensity scale with winds as strong as 150 mph. The tornado was not only rare in its intensity but in its size (400 yards wide) and in how far it traveled on the ground — 12.6 miles.
This article guides you through the potential hazards employees could face during and after a tornado hits a work site. A great way to remind your employees of the potential hazards of a tornado is with the use of a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA).
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in conjunction with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe tornados as columns of air that extend from the sky to the ground rotating with great speed and power. These extreme winds create different and unique physical hazards during and after a tornado event. Tornado cleanup activities could present a major challenge for first responders, utility workers and construction teams due to the vast destruction. Workers involved with tornado cleanup must be aware of the potential dangers, and the necessary proper safety precautions. Work-related hazards that could be encountered include electrical hazards, carbon monoxide exposures, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, motor vehicle and large machinery accidents, hazardous materials, fire, confined spaces, and falls. Directors and supervisors can notify and train their employees of the potential dangers involved with tornado’s by using an emergency action plan or Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA).
Clean-up activities after a tornado event could last months or even years. Employers should keep in mind that clean-up activities can progress and change over time which should trigger a review of your Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA). This kind of safety review could have potentially saved a utility works life in Joplin Missouri. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited utility company Missouri American Water for two willful safety violations following the May 16, 2012, death of a worker. The worker suffered fatal injuries when a gas-powered saw kicked back while he and another employee were cutting sections of old cast-iron pipe. The work was part of efforts to reroute underground water lines in a residential neighborhood being rebuilt following the EF5 tornado that struck Joplin on May 22, 2011.
Safety + Health publication outlined the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division’s recommendations for how to keep employees safe during and after a tornado event. The first suggestion is to have a thorough plan in place which can help mitigate injuries, fatalities, and damage to property in the event of a tornado. OSHA requires nearly all employers with at least 11 employees to have a written, comprehensive emergency action plan. The emergency action plan and/or Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA) should include the following:
- Pay attention to local weather via media reports, notifications from weather apps or emergency apps such as the FEMA app, and/or a NOAA weather radio.
- Keep employees informed about weather conditions. Methods include text messages, emails or announcements over an intercom or loudspeaker.
- Develop a backup communication system in case the primary one fails, and test both systems regularly.
- Make sure employees know where to seek shelter and assemble after a tornado passes.
- Conduct regularly scheduled tornado drills.
Indicators of a tornado event should be included in your safety plan as well. They include:
- Dark and often greenish clouds or sky.
- Appearance of wall clouds (also known as pedestal clouds).
- Persistent and strong rotation in the cloud base.
- Hail and/or heavy rain, followed by a fast and intense wind shift or “dead calm”.
- A roaring sound that doesn’t fade after a few seconds.
- Whirling dust and debris near the ground and under the clouds.
During cleanup activities, physical, chemical, and biological hazards may be present. Challenges faced by emergency response and recovery workers include electrocution, falls, chemical hazards, fire, and physical hazards associated to injury from falling or flying debris, among others. Employees should be trained on the following information after a tornado event:
- Check workers for injuries. Don’t move anyone who is seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Instead, seek medical assistance right away. Begin CPR (if trained) on anyone who has stopped breathing.
- Check apps and other sources for additional emergency weather information.
- Proceed with caution through damaged areas and watch out for hazards. Wear proper personal protective equipment when handling debris.
- Cooperate with emergency personnel.
Before starting work where a tornado event could occur, employers should consider the additional personal protective equipment (PPE) employees might need after a tornado. NIOSH and the CDC emphasizes that PPE is the main source of protection for emergency and recovery workers. Depending on the type of emergency which may include flooding, winds, fire, electricity, structural collapse, falls, terrorism, extreme temperatures, diseases, among others. It is necessary to protect emergency response and recovery workers from physical, chemical, and biological hazards. Routes of exposure include inhalation, dermal contact, ingestion or contact through mucous membranes. Therefore, main protective equipment includes respirators, eye protection, hearing protection and protective clothing. Depending on the hazard, the recommendations on the use of PPE change. Some examples of PPE that you might want to have available on your job site include respirators, gloves, overalls, boots, and goggles.
Employers should evaluate each job task and operation, identify the hazards associated with it, and establish the exposure controls necessary to adequately protect workers. Employers may achieve this by developing a tornado preparation hazard analysis using a Job Safety Analysis, Job Hazard Analysis, or Activity Hazard Analysis. In developing their hazard analyses, employers should involve a team—ideally composed of safety and health professionals, the workers, and their supervisors—familiar with the work to be completed and the hazards associated with that work.
As you prepare your next Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA) for tornado preparation, non-routine tasks and new risks may be an essential part of your hazard analysis. A JSA worksheet will help workers identify tornado hazards and determine what controls and safety procedures can be implemented. For JSA software to aid in creating JSA worksheets and activity hazard analysis forms, visit www.JSAbuilder.com.
Go to www.JSAbuilder.com and test the referenced JSA software for free, and help your team work safely and go home at the end of each work day without harm. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter @JSABuilder, where we tweet about Health and Safety, post Safety tips, and provide updates on current Health and Safety topics. We also highly recommend that you try one of our other top safety tools at www.LOTOBuilder.com today, where our database-driven Lockout Tagout tool is currently available for a FREE 30-day trial, which will allow you to manage your lock out tag out program from start to finish. Easily enter your workers, equipment and procedures to build an entire LOTO program. Save time and money using LOTOBuilder and help your workers to work safe.
Note: images, links, brands discussed or displayed in this article are not endorsements or recommendations. They are for illustration of various products and types of products. JSABuilder does not recommend products, does not endorse, or express any opinion as to the applicability to any given use case or job hazard. Again, consult your safety professional to obtain authoritative opinions on applicability, selection and fitting of all the various types of PPE, then work smart and safe.