A firsthand account from the most dangerous workplace
in the U.S.
By Jeffrey W. Vincoli, Norman H. Black and Stewart C. Burkhammer
PHOTOS BY JEFF VINCOLI/NORM BLACK
On Sept. 12, 2001, a small group
of SH&E professionals from Bechtel Group Inc., led by Stewart Burkhammer,
a professional member of ASSE’s National Capital Chapter, arrived
in New York City to assist the city and state of New York in the emergency
recovery effort after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The sights and experiences of the days and weeks that followed are described
here in order to provide fellow SH&E professionals a brief account
of the extraordinary challenges encountered at Ground Zero.
Jeffrey W. Vincoli, CSP, CHCM,
is ES&H manager for corporate assessments and audits with Bechtel
Construction Operations Inc., Frederick, MD. He is a professional member
of ASSE’s Cape Canaveral Chapter and chairs the Society’s
PDC Planning Committee. He will discuss his Ground Zero experience on
June 11, during a general session at ASSE’s 2002 PDC in Nashville,
Norman H. Black, CSP, is ES&H manager for special projects
with Bechtel Systems and Infrastructure Inc., San Francisco. He is also
licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a captain of 100-ton sailing and
motor-driven vessels. Black is a professional member of ASSE’s
San Francisco and Puget Sound chapters.
Stewart C. Burkhammer, P.E., CSP, is principal vice president
with Bechtel Group Inc., Frederick, MD. He has held several leadership
positions with the organization, including manager of environmental,
safety and health services. A Fellow of ASSE, Burkhammer is a professional
member of the National Capital Chapter. He is also a member of OSHA’s
Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health.
September 11, 2001, began much like any
other Tuesday. Norm Black, ES&H manager for special projects with
Bechtel Systems and Infrastructure Inc., San Francisco, was on assignment
at a project office in midtown Manhattan. Jeff Vincoli, ES&H manager
for corporate assessments and audits with Bechtel Construction Operations
Inc., had just landed at Washington Dulles International Airport in
Virginia when the second plane hit the World Trade Center (WTC). The
next 24 hours would be unlike anything either could have imagined.
Within hours of the attack, Black was attending a chaotic meeting of
state and city officials near Ground Zero. As a construction SH&E
professional, he answered various safety questions in a discussion that
led to the formation of a large SH&E team. By mid-afternoon, Bechtel’s
corporate offices (in San Francisco and Frederick, MD) were asked for
additional assistance. On Wednesday, Sept. 12, six SH&E professionals
from the Frederick office headed to New York City. Since air travel
was prohibited, the group drove in a van. The ride, which would normally
take three hours, took nearly six. During that time, the group received
continuous cell phone updates about the status of Ground Zero from personnel
at the Manhattan project office.
On the morning of Sept. 13, the SH&E group was taken to Ground Zero
(see Figure 1 for site orientation), escorted by New York State Dept.
of Environmental Compliance (DEC) Police, the New York Police Dept.
(NYPD) and a New York Port Authority safety representative. No one in
the group was—or could have been—adequately prepared for what
First Impressions: Devastation &
Dust was one of the first things the group noticed. A fine, gray dust,
later determined to be mostly pulverized concrete covered everything
at the 16-acre disaster site (Table 1). More than 160 buildings in lower
Manhattan were cloaked in the powder and would need to be cleaned. Dust
was settling everywhere—on the streets, parked vehicles, buildings,
lightposts, fences (Photo 1). A tremendous amount of paper was scattered
across the site as well—files, notes, pages from desk calendars,
photographs, unopened mail, legal documents and myriad other papers
common to an office environment. Papers and dust even blanketed a small
cemetery located directly across the street from the site. There were
also shoes of all types, styles and sizes scattered everywhere.
The scene was a surreal, horrific and unbelievable sight. At times,
we were unsure of what we were seeing—we simply could not process
the visual images rapidly enough to comprehend what confronted us. The
smoke was thick, acrid and penetrating, with an odor similar to burning
electrical insulation or burning ballast, mixed with other indescribable
substances. The SH&E group wore half-mask respirators with high
efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, but the odor was still detectable.
We first walked past the ruins of WTC Building 7 (Photo 2)—a 47-story
office building before it collapsed at 5:20 pm on Sept. 11. We then
headed toward the corner of Church and Liberty streets From here, the
full impact of the attack was clear. Where WTC Building 4 once stood
laid the remains of Tower 2 (the South Tower, WTC-2), which collapsed
at 10:00 am on Sept. 11, raining tons of steel, glass and concrete debris
onto the southeast corner of Building 4 (Photo 3). All that remained
standing of Tower 2 was its lower curtain wall, which was dubbed “the
coliseum” because of its odd appearance (Photo 4).
World Trade Center
1. Tower 1 (WTC-1)
2. Tower 2 (WTC-2)
3. Marriott Hotel (WTC-3)
4. Office Building (WTC-4)
5. Office Building (WTC-5)
6. Office Building (WTC-6)
7. Office Building (WTC-7)
|World Financial Center
8. American Express (WFC-3)
(major structural damage)
9. Office Building (WFC-2)
(minor structural damage)
10. Dow Jones (WFC-1)
(minor structural damage)
|Other Affected Buildings
11. Federal Building
(minor superficial damage)
12. 140 West Street (NY Telephone)
13. 1 Liberty (Brooks Brothers)
14. Century 21 Building
15. Millennium Hilton
(serious structural damage)
16. 90 West Street
(serious structural damage)
17. Greek Orthodox Church
18. 130 Liberty (Bander's Trust)
(serious structural damage)
WTC Dust Analysis Results
•Chemically processed cellulose fibers
•Includes charred wood fragments
Chrysotile Asbestos Fibers
•Some with adhering carbonate binder, total estimated to comprise
•Cotton and paper
|Photo 1 (above):
Dust covered everything at and around Ground Zero.
The area where WTC-2 fell became—and
would remain—a major focus for search-and-rescue personnel. Even
though WTC-2 was the second building to be attacked, it was the first
to collapse. An orderly evacuation was in progress when the building
crumbled. Many firefighters were climbing the stairwells and were killed
when the building fell, as were a large number of WTC-2 workers. Since
Tower 1 did not collapse for another 30 minutes, many potential victims
had time to escape that building.
As the SH&E group approached Ground Zero, we saw hundreds—perhaps
thousands—of people everywhere. Many were getting in each other’s
way, trying to help yet not knowing what to do or how to do it (Photo
5). Professional rescue workers and civilian volunteers worked side
by side in a massive scene of chaos.
Although the site was extremely dangerous, most volunteers wore no personal
protective equipment (PPE). Some wore shorts, sneakers and sleeveless
shirts. Others wore some combination/variety of protective equipment—hard
hats, dusts masks, surgical masks and even handkerchiefs used as respiratory
protection. Some wore safety goggles and even faceshields, while others
wore no eye protection. This equipment was often inadequate, however.
The debris pile was unstable and rife with hazards, including shards
of glass, erupting fires, collapsing debris, slippery surfaces, and
hundreds of rebar “spears” projecting at all angles from the
pile. Heavy equipment (dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers) moved
about rapidly, often with no apparent regard for the massive number
of pedestrians populating the site. As safety professionals, the scene
was an extremely disturbing, even horrifying sight. Little or no control
of the work and limited understanding of the hazards set the stage for
a serious accident involving one of the rescuers. Thankfully, none occurred.
Early Days: Accepting the Risk
In those early days at Ground Zero, rescue workers were focused on finding
survivors, regardless of personal risks involved. Even though time would
later prove that no more survivors were to be found, the hope and faith
of the rescue teams did not waver. Risking a life to save a life is
a unique attribute of human behavior. Although admirable under these
circumstances, this attitude created serious safety and health concerns.
Risk-taking was the norm—not the exception—at Ground Zero.
As SH&E professionals, it was difficult to watch these activities.
Under normal circumstances, doing nothing to stop risk-taking equates
to condoning and accepting the risk, which is contrary to how SH&E
professionals are trained to conduct their craft. But work at the site
was anything but “normal.” The group quickly learned that
trying to control human behavior under such extreme conditions was not
possible. In the simplest terms, during those early days, we were forced
to accept such risk-taking behavior—not an easy task for any team
Since no clear lines of authority had yet been established with regard
to the team’s specific responsibilities, it was initially difficult
to enforce even the simplest of SH&E principles at the site. As
long as work at the WTC was considered “search and rescue”
by the mayor’s office, it fell under the jurisdiction of the Fire
Dept. of New York (FDNY) and the FDNY incident commander. As a public
agency, FDNY took
little direction from a private contractor.
First Things First
Telling a firefighter, a police officer or any other worker at Ground
Zero not to take risks during the first few weeks was simply not realistic.
On one occasion, a senior commander told a safety representative from
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that the first person
to mention safety issues would literally be thrown off “his”
site. He felt he had no time to worry about such things when there could
still be survivors.
It was decided that we could begin to infuse correct safety structures
by attempting to control the exposure to hazards that personnel faced
each minute of every day. Looking at the “big picture,” we
categorized hazards into four primary areas: 1) personal safety and
hygiene; 2) dust control; 3) heavy equipment operations; and 4) work
Personal Safety & Hygiene
When the team first arrived on site, people were eating, drinking and
smoking in the same areas where they were working—on the debris
pile, where dust and smoke were the worst. No thought was given to personal
hygiene—and even less regard was given to the use of PPE. Injured
persons were being treated in open-air, makeshift triage stations while
smoke and ash continued to rain down. The SH&E team recommended
that all workers at the site wear, at a minimum, a hard hat, safety
glasses, long pants, shirts with sleeves and sturdy shoes (preferably
safety shoes). In addition, anyone within 25 feet of the pile or downwind
of the site was required to wear respiratory protection. Dust masks
were required when exposure was minimal (intermittent or downwind).
However, on the pile, half-mask organic vapor respirators with HEPA
filters were initially provided; later, organic vapor/acid gas respirators
with HEPA filters were required.
The Salvation Army, American Red Cross and other groups provided enclosed
eating stations and washing facilities for workers. NIOSH, and later
OSHA, operated respirator fit testing stations and distributed thousands
of respirators to workers (Photo 6). SH&E team members also helped
workers with respiratory protection (Photo 7). Triage stations and first-aid
facilities were relocated to tents and other protected structures (such
as commandeered restaurants, exercise facilities and other establishments
located near Ground Zero).
2 (above, left): WTC-7, a 47-story
building destroyed in the attacks.
Photo 3 (right): The remains of Tower 2
fell on the southeast corner of WTC-4, which can be seen in the
Photo 4 (above, right): The curtain wall of Tower 2, which was referred
to as “the coliseum.”
In the early stages of the recovery effort, the composition of the smoke
and dust coming from the pile was undetermined. A dust suppression plan
was implemented to ensure adequate protection of workers and the surrounding
neighborhoods as debris was trucked offsite. Vehicle washing stands
were erected at perimeter locations, and no vehicle was allowed offsite
without first being washed down properly (Photo 8). Task-specific dust-suppression
methods were implemented as required—such as to clean peripheral
buildings in preparation for reoccupation (Photo 9). This included use
of required PPE and specific clean-up techniques (watering, double-bagging,
HEPA vacuuming, etc.) to minimize the amount of dust generated. While
the use of water created some initial concerns regarding discharge,
the benefit of reducing the risk of human exposure/contamination potential
Heavy Equipment Operations
The tremendous amount of heavy equipment used at Ground Zero created
many opportunities for serious accidents (Photo 10). More than 30 crawler
cranes (up to 1,000 ton in capacity), several dozen excavators, scores
of backhoes and dozers, hundreds of trucks and many other types of equipment
moved about the site at a hurried pace 24/7. The team’s recommendations
to use spotters, back-up alarms, properly caged operator cabs, clear
zones and related standard operating procedures prevented several accidents.
Work Zone Control
From the beginning, many people with no credentials or work assignments
were present at the disaster site. People would help in one area, then
wander to another to provide assistance. While their efforts were commendable,
had an emergency situation occurred in any area, there would be no way
to account for personnel. To gain control of the site, the SH&E
team recommended implementation of a positive access accountability
system; this eventually resulted in the creation of four separate zones
at Ground Zero. Four construction firms were assigned responsibility
for demolition and recovery activities, as well as SH&E issues,
in each zone.
Each contractor’s safety professionals reported to the NYC Dept.
of Design and Construction (DDC). Bechtel provided SH&E consultation
to the DDC for the entire site. Eventually, the National Guard took
responsibility for access control and personnel badges, which substantially
decreased work zone control problems. The number of workers at the site
dropped from an estimated 10,000 (during the first week) to fewer than
2,500. In addition to firefighters and police department representatives,
some 1,500 iron workers and 400 operating engineers were on site, along
with many carpenters, laborers and mill workers.
5 (above left): The site was flooded with people trying to assist,
many wearing no or improper PPE.
Photo 6 (above, middle): One of OSHA’s PPE distribution centers
and respirator fit test stations near the disaster site.
Photo 7 (above right): Norm Black (left) helps a New York City police
officer fit her respirator.
I began my SH&E career on Sept. 14, 1981, as a safety engineer
in the country’s new Space Shuttle Program at Kennedy Space
Center. To say this job was professionally challenging, technically
demanding and emotionally overwhelming would be an understatement.
It was, of course, exciting to be part of the team that would take
the U.S. space program into the next century.
In those early years, I often wondered where my career would take
me and what I would be doing in 20 years. Never could I have anticipated
that 20 years later—to the day—I would be witness to the
massive devastation and horror of this tragic event. Once again,
I found myself involved in a professionally challenging, technically
demanding and emotionally overwhelming task that was (and still
is) beyond description. Being at Ground Zero was, at all times,
profoundly sad. The sadness remains for me and all who gave their
time, skills, talents and abilities during those dark days. We experienced
things that no one was ever meant to experience and saw things that
should never have been seen. But it all had to be done. I am sure
that the images will be with me forever, but I am also confident
that I will be a better person (both personally and professionally)
as a result of this experience.
I am proud to say that during our time at Ground Zero, no one on
the site suffered a fatality or serious injury. At least 30 rescue
workers’ lives were saved as a direct result of our team’s
involvement at Ground Zero. I find personal and professional satisfaction
in that fact that we did what we, as SH&E professionals, are
trained to do—save lives. The fact that we were able to accomplish
our charter under the most bizarre of circumstances is nothing less
Other SH&E Initiatives
A warning system using hand-held air horns was devised to signal site-wide
emergencies. Personnel were instructed to stop work and listen for further
instructions, how to safely evacuate the area immediately, or return
to work depending on the number of horn blasts. Two-way radio communication
and cell phone links became the standard for sending and receiving information
about Ground Zero status.
A generic accident prevention plan was also quickly developed and implemented.
The intent was to take whatever realistic measures were possible to
ensure that no one would die or suffer a serious injury as a result
of working at the site. To succeed in this unique work environment,
the plan had to be simple, concise and easily understood by all personnel
while ensuring that essential SH&E issues were adequately addressed.
The plan focused on the four primary areas of concern: personal health
and hygiene, dust control, heavy equipment use and work zone control.
It provided specific details regarding each element and also covered
emergency action requirements and site evacuation procedures.
Later, a comprehensive SH&E plan was written and implemented. The
plan was an unprecedented undertaking developed with the input and consensus
of 26 federal, state and local agencies in partnership with the four
primary contractors. Federal (such as OSHA, EPA and FEMA), state (such
as the Dept. of Environmental Compliance) and city agencies (such as
the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management) approved the plan alongside
the private-sector contractors. Later, specific procedures were written
to address hazards related to tasks such as confined space entry, working
at heights, using compressed gas cylinders, ladder use, and excavation
and trenching. These procedures, along with the dust prevention and
suppression plan, the storm water prevention plan, and the freon removal
and recovery plan, became attachments to the comprehensive plan. In
addition, at each of the more than 30 gated entrances to the site, large
safety posters advised all who entered of the hazards and required controls.
8 (below): A vehicle wash station at Ground Zero. No vehicles were
permitted offsite without first being washed.
Photo 9 (right): Laborers clean 1 Liberty Plaza. At the time the
work was being performed, consistency of the dust was not known.
Photo 10 (below, right): A massive amount of heavy equipment was
mobilized to assist in the recovery effort. This photo shows only
the southwest corner of the 16-acre site.
In many ways I am proud because I was able to be at the site so
quickly, figuring out ways to stop more people from being hurt or
killed as a result of this attack. In many other ways, I am frustrated
that I was not able to instantly stop all the apparent hazards because
of the nature of the rescue-and-recovery process. I was proud to
be a part of a valiant effort to make the site whole again, but
ashamed of myself as I burst into tears at the site of a rescue
dog with bloody paws as he struggled up a debris pile in the hope
of finding survivors.
My lessons learned from the experience were in understanding the
need everyone has in wanting to help in a rescue, and the impact
that attitude has on site safety management. I also learned how
important it is to tell loved ones how much they mean to me every
day. Life became so much more precious to me following my work at
As a CSP with 25 years in SH&E management, and as a licensed
ship’s master with countless miles at sea, I have never experienced
anything like the WTC recovery efforts and I hope you never will.
It will, for better or worse, be with me for the rest of my days.
Soon after our arrival at Ground Zero, the SH&E team received a
briefing from Port Authority SH&E personnel regarding hazardous
materials and commodities stored in (and under) some WTC buildings.
At this early stage, their status was unknown and, therefore, presumed
to be a threat to personal safety. The most-serious concerns included:
•Approximately 200,000 pounds of Freon« 22 refrigerant for
the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system were located several
stories underground in storage tanks. Nearly 180,000 pounds for the
primary system and another 20,000 pounds for the backup system were
located in separate tanks at two different levels in the WTC basement.
While this chemical has a relatively high threshold limit value and
is nonflammable, it emits hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids when heated.
Final status: Both tanks were eventually located and inspected; both
were damaged and one was leaking slightly. The same contractor that
designed, built, nstalled and serviced the tanks eventually recovered
•72,000 gallons of diesel fuel were stored in a tank (on basement
level 7) for the WTC complex backup generator/power systems. Final status:
The tank was eventually located and inspected. Although slightly damaged,
no leaks were found. The fuel was removed.
•1,000 gallons of gasoline, contained in individual five-gallon
cans, were located throughout many levels of each of the collapsed towers.
Final status: No gasoline cans were ever found; presumed destroyed in
the collapse and ensuing fires.
•Unknown quantities of blood and blood products were stored in
a blood bank located in Tower 2. Final status: No blood or blood products
(from the blood bank) were ever found; it was presumed destroyed in
the collapse and ensuing fires.
•3,600 pounds of lead acid batteries, used for backup power, were
located on various floors of the collapsed towers. Final status: No
batteries were ever found; presumed destroyed.
•Three underground floors had been used as a parking garage with
a total capacity of 2,000 cars. Assuming (conservatively) the garage
to be half-full, with the cars’ fuel tanks being anywhere from
near empty to full, the explosive potential was extraordinary. With
the stability of the debris pile unknown, subsurface fires burning continuously,
welding and other hot work being performed on top of the debris, and
hundreds of personnel working on the pile, the threat of a massive event
with extensive human causalities due to underground explosions was real
and serious. Final status: The cars were eventually located and removed.
Some had exploded and were completely burned-out while others were in
pristine, drivable condition.
•WTC Building 6 housed several federal agencies, primarily U.S.
Customs (Photo 11). The third floor—now largely inaccessible—contained
a firing range. More than 1.2 million rounds of ammunition were stored
on this level, as was a vault used to store other explosives and weapons.
A seizure vault was also on the third floor; it contained evidence (such
as drugs, cash and evidence files) seized during Customs operations.
Final status: At great personal risk, Customs officials, the FBI and
contractor representatives located and removed the criminal evidence
from Building 6 during the fourth week of the effort. The ammunition
was finally located on Oct. 24, 2001, melted together into large “bullet
balls” that were extremely dangerous to handle and dispose of properly
(Photo 12). At one point, a discharge of a bullet, due to the immense
heat in the area, caused a shrapnel wound to the face of one worker.
What an experience! After 39 years in the profession, having an
opportunity to lead an effort that affected the lives of many was
truly overwhelming. Two things will remain in my mind forever. First,
the strong resolve of America and the thousands of everyday people
who would line up and cheer us as we left the site each day. Many
handed us flowers, water and ribbons of thanks. Second, the pain,
anguish and sorrow on the faces of the many friends we made while
working in New York. They lost friends, coworkers, colleagues and
family in the disaster, yet they continued to do their jobs in a
very professional manner. This is real courage.
•A building at 90 West St.—located
across the street and just south of WTC-2—was undergoing extensive
exterior surface renovation. Before the attack, scaffolding had been
erected on the east, west and south sides of the 12-story turn-of-the
century art deco building. When Tower 2 collapsed, the building was
pelted with steel, glass and concrete debris. Its first six floors were
burned-out and the remaining six floors suffered heavy structural damage.
As a result, the scaffolding was in danger of collapse, as was the building
itself. With hundreds of rescue workers in the immediate vicinity, collapsing
scaffolding presented a serious flying projectile hazard should the
scaffolding—or the entire building—come down. Final status:
The scaffolding was eventually secured and later safely removed.
•The WTC complex sits over a bathtub-shaped cavern that was hollowed-out
to accommodate the underground service areas. During the original construction,
an 80-foot tall by three-foot thick slurry wall had been built to keep
the Hudson River out, which it successfully did for more than 30 years.
However, cracks were discovered in the slurry wall that indicated potential
wall failure and a subsequent flooding event under Ground Zero. A massive
crack that appeared along Liberty Street indicated a pending failure
of the slurry wall. The wall was braced and the entire structure was
shored up before the wall could fail. Tiebacks were installed and a
concrete/sand mix was pumped into the damaged area. This all took place
while tons of debris and heavy equipment were on top of the WTC plaza.
•The debris pile at Ground Zero was always tremendously hot. Thermal
measurements taken by helicopter each day showed underground temperatures
ranging from 400║F to more than 2,800║F. The surface was so
hot that standing too long in one spot softened (and even melted) the
soles of our safety shoes. Steel toes would often heat up and become
intolerable. This heat was also a concern for the search-and-rescue
dogs used at the site. Many were not outfitted with protective booties
(Photo 13). More than one suffered serious injuries and at least three
died while working at Ground Zero. The underground fire burned for exactly
100 days and was finally declared “extinguished” on Dec. 19,
•Four or five days following the attack, another disturbing element
developed at the disaster site. The smell of decay was overwhelming,
raising concerns about infectious disease control. Despite the NYC Dept.
of Health’s strict directives regarding the handling of human remains,
several days of the inescapable odor only added to the mounting difficulties
of the work.
•Glass from the many thousands of windows in the
still-standing buildings that surrounded Ground Zero was broken; with
the slightest wind or vibration, it showered down onto the rescue site.
Because it took days for these buildings to be properly draped with
protective netting (many stood more than 50 stories high), personnel
faced a constant threat when working near these buildings (Photo 14).
OSHA representatives were on site from the beginning. The OSHA area
director’s office had been located in WTC Building 6; fortunately,
all of his staff evacuated before Tower 1 collapsed and all but destroyed
Building 6. OSHA quickly realized that the unique circumstances at Ground
Zero required a different approach to workplace safety. In an unprecedented
arrangement, the agency worked closely with Bechtel to address specific
and general hazards and hazardous conditions. Compliance officers teamed
with members of the SH&E group to patrol the site and monitor the
work 24 hours per day (Photo 15). When safety issues arose, contractors
were given the opportunity to take corrective action without regard
to citations or other enforcement actions. No citations were written
or even considered during the first three months of the recovery effort.
Injury & Illness Rate Low, OSHA Says
After nearly three million workhours, only 35 workers at the World
Trade Center recovery site suffered injuries that resulted in lost
workdays, OSHA recently reported. Of the 35 reported cases, none
“The lost workday injury and illness (LWDII) rate at the World
Trade Center is 2.3,” says OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.
“While the work being done here is clearly unparalleled, the
closest comparison is specialty construction which includes demolition.
The LWDII for specialty construction is 4.3.”
“Given the extraordinary circumstances involved, this rate
reflects the tremendous effort of everyone involved—the workers,
Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater NY (BCTC), Building
Trades Employer's Association (BTEA), the City of New York and the
federal government,” states Patricia K. Clark, OSHA’s
regional administrator in New York.
The LWDII was obtained by collecting injury and illness data from
all contractors at the site. The rate was then calculated as usual—by
dividing the number of OSHA-recordable injuries by the number of
hours worked. This rate covers all contractor employees working
at the WTC site.
OSHA signed a partnership agreement in November 2001 with contractors,
employees, employee representatives and governmental agencies participating
in the emergency response efforts in lower Manhattan. To continue
this cooperative effort to protect all workers at the site and to
keep the injury and illness rate as low as possible, OSHA has entered
into a new partnership with the construction manager Bovis/Amec,
BCTC and BTEA. For more information on the agency’s efforts
at the recovery site, visit www.osha.gov.
Photo 14 (top): The
north face of 130 Liberty St. The broken windows were eventually
covered completely with protective, flame-retardant netting.
Photo 15: OSHA and the SH&E team joined forces to conduct
inspections and monitor Ground Zero work activities.
For the most part, normal worksite OSHA
compliance was not possible or even feasible at the WTC. The fundamental
principles that form the basis for OSHA rules, regulations and standards
certainly helped the team analyze hazards, perform evaluations and make
decisions. However, strict “compliance” with OSHA requirements
simply was not an option at this stage of the emergency effort. We encountered
hazards that no rule, regulation or standard had ever addressed. The
entire site could have been considered “immediately dangerous to
life and health,” but the work had to be performed. The SH&E
group’s task became one of real-time hazard identification, analysis
and control. Team members had to quickly evaluate the hazards and associated
risks of a pending task and attempt to determine the safest possible
way to perform what was often an unsafe task.
This was how the SH&E team operated, 12 to 14 hours per day, six
to seven days per week. Some members were on site for more than three
months. At its maximum, our team consisted of more than 40 practitioners.
Joined by experts from the Washington Group, the team included industrial
hygienists, rigging specialists, environmental engineers, industrial
and construction safety engineers, demolition safety experts and even
a high-rise/commercial building safety specialist.
Perhaps John Henshaw, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSH, described
work at the WTC best when he said, “The World Trade Center site
is potentially the most dangerous workplace in the United States.”
(USDOL News Release #01-440, Nov. 20, 2001).
On the professional side, work on this
project was mentally and physically exhausting, technically taxing and
frequently frustrating. But it was also satisfying to know that we were
truly making a difference in the recovery effort. On the human side,
it was consistently disturbing and emotionally draining. Team members
were on an emotional roller coaster—a ride no one ever got used
to. In the same hour, we would go from watching victims being removed
from the debris to shaking hands with President Bush, Governor Pataki
and Mayor Giuliani. As they greeted us, the adrenaline level was high
and the pride immeasurable. But, when the dignitaries left, we had to
go back to the task at hand— and the tremendous stresses associated