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It Takes a Team to Handle Hazardous Business

Meth labs.  Tanker rollovers. Train derailments. A fire at your local dry cleaners. Terrorists attacks.
What do all of these have in common? They all have the potential to be hazardous-substance emergencies. And they all need to be handled by experts—members of a Hazardous Materials Response Team.

Such teams of professionals include police officers, sheriffs and firefighters. They are often the first professionals to respond to a leak or release of dangerous biological, chemical or nuclear agents—substances capable of causing harm to living tissue, the environment or property.

Sounds frightening, but “one man’s hazard is another’s specialty,” says Steve Scardino, a Workers’ Compensation attorney with Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK). “Spend some time with these first responders, and you realize that these public safety officers are the consummate professionals. They are trained to contain and mitigate very dangerous situations.

“That being said, because they are the first responders, they may be at greater risk of exposure to hazardous materials than other HAZMAT teams because they may encounter a toxic release without the benefit of personal protective equipment.”

According to the nation’s Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system, approximately one-quarter of first responders did not utilize any type of personal protective equipment in dealing with such substances.

Exposure to hazardous materials can result in the following:

  • Respiratory irritation
  • Nausea
  • Chemical burns
  • Trauma
  • Asphyxiation
  • Thermal burns
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Heat stress
  • Death

Even the best-equipped team members are subject to such physical problems as shoulder, back and knee injuries from equipment handling. And, the protective clothing that is often worn can cause major problems.

“The heat generated from the protective clothing can be so intense that it creates what is often referred to as a ‘hostile interior environment,’” explains Scardino. “The result can be heat stress.”

The protective clothing can also produce stress of another kind—anxiety caused by reduced communication, restricted vision, reduced manual dexterity, claustrophobia….

“It can be a Catch-22 situation. Without protective gear, your exposure is greater. But with the protective gear, you have a whole other set of problems.

“The members of these teams handle what we cannot. And they risk their health—and their lives—doing so. If they are injured, they have the right to be diagnosed, treated and compensated justly. It is particularly important for them to document exposures because the effects may be delayed. Documentation can go a long way toward linking exposure to an injury or illness.

“At GEK we are committed to providing Justice for the Injured®. We take particular pride in being able to protect the rights of those who put their lives on the line every day to ensure our safety.” 

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