Responding to Disasters

Emergencies can create a variety of hazards for workers in the impacted area. Preparing before an emergency incident plays a vital role in ensuring that employers and workers have the necessary equipment, know where to go, and know how to keep themselves safe when a disaster occurs. 

Workers also have the right to a safe workplace, even when disasters strike. If you have brought safety & health concerns to your employer, and they have not addressed your concerns, you have the right to file a workplace safety complaint to L&I.

In Washington State, workers may have to deal with a range of hazards resulting from natural disasters including:

  • Fires
  • Wind storms
  • Floods
  • Landslides
  • Earthquakes
  • And many other events.

The physical and emotional impacts of disasters can be devastating. Having a plan to address both physical safety & health and emotional wellness is vital to ensure no further injury occurs.

This page provides information for employers and workers across many industries, including workers who will be responding to disasters, including during cleanup and recovery efforts.

Find and Fix Hazards

In the aftermath of a disaster, having a plan to keep workers safe can prevent more injury and illness. The first step in this plan is to find and document hazards. These documents can guide you through the hazard identification process and help you plan to manage those hazards in the aftermath of disasters:

Our Get Started With Safety and Health page can help you dive deeper into specific hazards and further steps you can take to keep workers safe and healthy.

Addressing Hazards

Burned and damaged buildings can create exposures to hazardous chemicals including lead and asbestos. Water damage can lead to the growth of mold and increases the risk of waterborne illness. Ensure good ventilation and proper respiratory protection are used when workers are exposed to safety and health hazards, especially during damage assessment and clean-up work.

Federal OSHA has helpful resources for how to find and fix hazards in the aftermath of specific disasters on their Emergency Preparedness and Response page.

Help from L&I

Disaster cleanup efforts can introduce a range of safety and health hazards, many of which may be new to both employers and workers. L&I has a group of safety and health consultants on staff who are experienced in identifying and reducing safety and health hazards in many workplace settings, including at disaster cleanup sites. These safety and health consultants are located throughout the state and there is no cost for their services.

Learn more about L&I's Consultation Program and how we can help.

Mental Health Resources

Disasters can create emotional and mental health challenges, especially for first responders providing direct rescue, recovery, and cleanup. Have a plan to help workers impacted by disasters.

  • Workplace Stress (OSHA)
  • Mental Health in the Workplace (CDC)
  • Dial 988 - If you or someone you know are currently experiencing a crisis, call 988 for immediate support. Help is available 24 hours a day in both English and Spanish.

More Resources