Georgia Tech to Train Hurricane Recovery Workers

Georgia Tech Research Institute wins OSHA grant

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has awarded a one-year, $400,000 training grant to the Georgia Tech Research Institute to help train workers involved in cleanup and rebuilding in Gulf Coast areas damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

This is the fourth and the single largest Susan Harwood Training Grant awarded to the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in the past three years.

The grant is funding GTRI researchers to develop and provide training materials and conduct training sessions addressing occupational and safety health hazards that may be encountered by disaster recovery workers, supervisors and employers.

The training - expected to begin by mid-November -- will target those providing skilled support services (e.g., utility, demolition, debris removal and heavy equipment operation), site clean-up services, and recovery activities, including the rebuilding and reconstruction of the damaged areas.

"We'll be going out there with mobile training units, coordinating our locations with OSHA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)," said Dan Ortiz, chief of the Occupational Safety and Health Division in GTRI's Health and Environmental Systems Laboratory. "Our approach in the disaster areas will have to be different than what we've done before. For example, electricity may not be available in some areas, so we'll do demos and distribute one-page technical guides instead of giving PowerPoint presentations."

Ten GTRI employees - including Art Wickman and Thomas Dean, who conducted training for workers cleaning up after the World Trade Center attack -- will form teams that rotate in and out of the disaster areas for the next six months. Senior research engineer Paul Schlumper will direct the project.

First, they will provide training in Mississippi, which is part of GTRI's territory for the OSHA-sponsored work and disaster site training it has done since 1978. Then teams will move into Louisiana and Texas and coordinate with their counterparts there, Ortiz explained.

"Work zone safety and fall protection for people who are working on roofs is OSHA's top priority for us," Ortiz noted. "…. Our concern is that in the zeal to remove debris and restore buildings, workers and employers will take shortcuts. We want to have resources out there to make sure workers have the proper protective equipment and knowledge of environmental hazards."

Topics that GTRI training will cover include: electrical and electrocution hazards, hand and power tool safety, biological hazards, chemical and respiratory hazards, confined space hazards, heat stress, ergonomic considerations, and hazardous materials and waste.

GTRI experts hope to reach thousands of workers, some of whom will have language and literacy barriers, Ortiz said. Thus, they will provide training and written materials in Spanish and use symbols and other graphics to explain concepts.

"We suspect that a high percentage of the workers will be people whose only language is Spanish," Ortiz added. "So we will have the assistance of a Spanish-speaking consultant. We'll adapt our materials as we need to do to meet the needs of these workers."

Research News & Publications Office
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 100
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contacts: Jane Sanders (404-894-2214); E-mail: (jane.sanders@edi.gatech.edu); Kirk Englehardt (404-385-0280); E-mail: (kirk.englehardt@gtri.gatech.edu); or John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail: john.toon@edi.gatech.edu)

Technical Contacts: Paul Schlumper (404-385-1797); E-mail: (paul.schlumper@gtri.gatech.edu) or Dan Ortiz (404-894-8276); E-mail: (daniel.ortiz@gtri.gatech.edu)

Writer: Jane Sanders