In the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster at the World Trade Center in New York, many rescue and clean-up workers were exposed to hazardous materials in the air or in the wreckage. Since then, efforts have been made to assess these dangers and devise ways to respond more safely to future catastrophes.

In 2003, the California Department of Health Services (DHS) conducted interviews with experts nationwide and with select California workers on these issues. The results of this survey are now available online.

According to national health and safety professionals interviewed about 9/11, the greatest health and safety gaps were:

  • Absent or inadequate eye and hearing protective equipment
  • Lack of respiratory protection training
  • Lack of concern for personal safety
  • Inadequate on-site training
  • Poor training for dealing with a high stress situation
  • Poor control over access to the site

Workers and company management from the California construction industry were among the three occupational groups (first responders and health care were the others) interviewed because of their involvement in recent hazardous incidents. These groups provided suggestions for improving training for, and response to, future incidents:

  • Establish a distinct chain of command to enforce a unified worker health and safety message
  • Create designated teams dedicated to emergency response
  • Involve stakeholders during emergency response
  • Ensure worker health and safety staff access to the incident site at the onset of worker exposure
  • Utilize a peer-enforced training structure to encourage PPE use in these high stress situations
  • Make training materials and methods more relevant to specific worker groups and anticipated working conditions

Further information on the survey is available form Barbara Materna (PhD, CIH), Chief of the Occupational Health Branch of DHS. She can be reached at