“After Sandy, I went to work with a contractor doing a basement cleanup,” recalled Marcelo, a day laborer from Brazil who’s been living in the U.S. for the past seven years but didn’t want to give his last name because he’s not authorized to work here. “We were taking down a sheetrock framing, and I got hit by a hammer on my head.”
He bled a little, but remembers thinking at the time that his injuries weren’t that bad, so he cleaned himself up and kept working. “That day I didn’t have gloves, I didn’t have goggles, I didn’t have a helmet. No safety equipment,” he said.
The next morning, he started to have headaches, which continued for several days. “I said to myself, you know, I’d better go to the doctor, because maybe something’s damaged inside,” he recalled. So he went to the hospital, had some x-rays taken, and eventually the headaches went away.
One week later, a bill arrived in the mail. It was close to a thousand dollars, and Marcelo didn’t have insurance. So he contacted his boss from the job site where he had sustained his injury. “He said, ‘That’s impossible. I don’t know you. You don’t have legal documents to work for me. I can’t help with that. You’re on your own right now,’” Marcelo remembered. So he ended up scraping up the money to pay the bill himself.
After any major disaster, day laborers are often among the first to report to the frontlines of the cleanup and recovery effort, drawn by the increased demand for work and the promise of picking up extra hours.
But as noted in a new report from the City University of New York’s Baruch College School of Public Affairs, disasters, by their very nature, tend to create additional occupational hazards and safety issues for both workers and employers, for which there is often little training.
Sandy is no exception. As part of the recovery effort, workers may be exposed to mold and other toxic substances they might not ordinarily come across. And they may be given unfamiliar tasks, sometimes without fully understanding the dangers and the risks.
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