Jeff Fortenberry, Jerry Engdahl and Fred Leibhert

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, left, stands with Platte County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jerry Engdahl, center, in March as they tour the T-Bone Truck Stop once flood waters receded. The duo here talks to Fred Leibhert, a fuel manger at the station. County business owners affected by the flooding are now able to have a state Department of Labor representative, free of charge, assess the safety and health conditions of their establishments.

Homes, personal property and farmland were some of the areas that took the biggest hit during March’s natural disaster affecting Columbus and much of Platte County.

A handful of businesses located south of town near the U.S Highway 30 and U.S. Highway 81 junction were also devastated by floodwaters. Now, business and property owners have been busy for more than a month filing claims with their own insurance providers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

With so much emphasis being placed on securing recovery aid, it might be difficult for some flood-affected business owners to really know if they have completed all the necessary cleanup at their establishments, said Jim Cover, program manager for the On-Site Safety and Health Consultation Program.

The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) on Tuesday announced that it’s working to offer free safety and health consultations to businesses in flood-affected areas all around Nebraska’s 93 counties. Trained NDOL consultants will be available to assist with mold remediation plans, provide safety and health assessments, identify electrical hazards and perform overall risk assessments.

The free consultations are available through the On-Site Safety and Health Consultation program, which was federally formed in the early 1970s after the inception of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“When that (OSHA) was passed, they formed this entity for every state so that smaller employers would have a way to make sure that they could comply with OSHA regulations,” Cover said.

In addition to mold, electrical hazards, and other possible flood-related dangers, businesses should be aware of the potential for harmful pathogens from sediment left behind by flood waters, according to information provided by the NDOL. The department recommends that individuals involved in clean-up efforts get a tetanus shot if they have not had one recently. Elevator safety can also be an issue due to flooding, and NDOL’s elevator inspection consultants are available to make free referrals to elevator service companies to ensure water is safely removed.

The On-Site Safety and Health Consultation program is not an enforcement program, nor will the NDOL issue any fines or penalties, according to the department. The program’s purpose is to help businesses provide the best environment possible for employees and identify potential hazards before they become dangerous and expensive problems.

Consultations are available to businesses with less than 250 employees on-site and 500 nationwide. The On-Site Safety and Health Consultation program offers the following services at no cost to employers: Walk-through safety and health assessment, employer-employee training, ventilation system evaluation, air sampling and analysis, air quality assessment for OSHA regulated substances, comprehensive written reports, hazard communication, safety data sheets and training, assistance with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), assessment of trenching and/or digging operations, evaluation of heavy equipment operations near electrical lines and excavations, demolition safety and health evaluation, noise assessments, hazard communication, safety data sheets and training, hand tool and portable power tool safety, mold remediation safety and health, assistance with placement of ladders and scaffolding, blood borne pathogens assessment, electrical system evaluations, machine guarding and respiratory protection help/assessment.

Platte County Emergency Manager Tim Hofbauer said that business owners still assessing business damage, or who want to learn more about what their cleanup/recovery options are, would be wise to talk with representatives from the On-Site Safety and Health Consultation program.

“I would think that this would be something that would be beneficial to them, because I am sure that there are a number of (code) requirements they have to follow – even with something like demolition,” Hofbauer said. “So it will be very important for business operators to follow those.”

The consultation team consists of Cover and five others, he said. Having to navigate around dozens of state counties, Cover noted that it could take some time for all businesses to be reached.

However, help will arrive.

“It really could be a matter of days or it could be a week, just depending on what exactly they are looking for help with,” Cover said “… But we are doing our best to say, ‘hey, we are here to help you anyway we can to help you and your business get back."

For more information regarding the On-site Safety and Health Consultation program, those with questions are encouraged to reach Cover at 402-471-4717.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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