Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Oakland, A Hazardous Materials Incident?

Should the tent cities of the "Occupy Wallstreet" movement be declared hazardous materials incidents?  Like many Americans, I have been watching and reading about the "Occupy ___?" movement that has been taking place in cities all over America.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have numerous demonstrations taking place daily with reports of demonstrators defecating on police cars and urinating on public property.  In the encampments that were set up in our local cities like Oakland and San Francisco by participants of the movement, were found to have contained hypodermic needles, containers of urine and feces, and soiled baby diapers.  Boxes of uneaten pizza and other rotting food have become a feast for the local rodent population that most of us know carry a variety of diseases that would keep the average American up at night.  Physical confrontations often result in blood borne pathogens being distributed between police and demonstrators with little more than face shields and leather gloves to protect the cops.

Oakland police officers were recently ordered to remove tents with filthy,dirty bedding that no doubt contained bodily fluids of it's tenants.  While the siege of the commune took place, I sat and watched as cops dragged tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, etc., from the encampment with no special proper protection equipment that I could see of other than their normal riot gear.  What about the post decontamination efforts that our officers received after they walked through an area that the City of Oakland felt compelled to decontaminate and fence off after the crowd was controlled ?  My guess is very little if any proper procedures were ever followed through concerning decontamination.

I've encountered conditions like these many times as a first responder.  In San Jose many of these encampments exist, particularly under overpasses, bridges, and along the river banks of the Guadalupe River that runs through the downtown.  Often we would respond to 911 calls of overdoses, assault victims, and even dead bodies within these small tent cities.  The conditions that our police officers currently face in the "Occupy" movement are no different and is a subject that has concerned me for many years in regards to occupational safety and riot or crowd control. 

Taken from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website at www.osha.gov is the national safety and health standards that have been implemented by OSHA in coalition with states such as California to protect first responders such as the Oakland officers charged with dismantling the encampments of "Occupy Wallstreet".  The most prominent of those standards is the 'Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standards of 29 CFR 1910.120(q). 

Scope of 29 CFR 1910.120

There are exceptions to 29 CFR that relieve the employer from some responsibility to completely protect the employee under certain emergency conditions i.e., a combative suspect or accident scene.  However, in situations such as crowd control or sweeps of these encampments, I don't believe those exceptions apply.

Definition of Emergency Responses or Responses to Emergencies:

"A response effort by employees from outside the immediate release area or by other designated responders (i.e., mutual aid groups, local fire departments, etc.) to an occurrence which results, or is likely to result, in an uncontrolled release of a hazardous substances.  Responses to incidental releases of hazardous substances where the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of the release by employees in the immediate release area, or by maintenance personnel are not considered to be emergency responses within the scope of this standard."



Conclusion

I see no reason to expose our first responders to the substances that I described above once the protesters are cleared from the area of the encampment.  I believe that at the time of clean-up, HazWoper qualified personnel should be cleaning up these sites, not unprotected police officers.  Additionally, considering what occurred in Oakland two nights ago leads me to believe that our officers should not be sent into these demonstrations at all as long as they are peaceful.  I realize that there are cries from the citizenry and businesses in the city of rodent infestation and lost revenue, but many times these things place the cops in a "Catch 22" situation were they cannot possibly win and often times get injured and exposed to diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV blood borne pathogens.  If the Mayor of Oakland would have allowed the police to enforce the policy of no camping at city hall from the very first tent pitched, situations like those where an Iraq war veteran was seriously injured could have been avoided altogether.  Two officers instead of 200?  That is what it would have taken to stop the first protester from setting up shop.
Oakland Mayor

As I was finishing up on this article, Mayor Quan did apologize for the carnage of Tuesday night and ultimately said she took responsibility for what had taken place. 










Posted by:
Crosshair Fire Investigations and Safety Consultants
Clayton, Ca.
(925) 693-0161
Ca. PI Lic# 27409

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