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FEMA IS-35: FEMA Safety Orientation Course Summary

IS-35 – FEMA Safety Orientation

Lesson 1: Workplace Safety: It’s Everyone’s Business

FEMA Safety Orientation

Workplace safety is an important concern at FEMA and throughout the Federal Government.

Workplace safety is everyone’s business. If you get sick or hurt on the job, everyone pays the price—in pain and suffering, in lost work, and in economic costs. Keeping you safe keeps you on the job, and that’s a good thing for all of us. When we work together to create a safer place to work, we’re all more productive and satisfied with our jobs.

This course is designed to help you understand your safety rights and responsibilities and what you can do to safeguard your own well-being on the job—both in your regular workplace and during deployments.

You play a critical role in workplace safety. Without your active participation, we cannot achieve our goal of creating a safe and healthy workplace for us all.

Course Overview

This course is designed to give you an orientation to workplace safety. At the conclusion of this course you should be able to:
  • Identify safety roles and responsibilities in the workplace.
  • Identify potential workplace hazards.
  • Identify ways to maximize personal safety at your regular workplace and when deployed.
  • Identify procedures for responding to emergencies in the workplace.

Lesson Overview

You should now be ready to start the first lesson, which focuses on the shared responsibilities for workplace safety. After completing this lesson, you should be able to:
  • List employee workplace rights.
  • Identify the safety roles and responsibilities of FEMA, the supervisor, and the employee.

Your Rights as an Employee

Every employee has the right to a safe and healthful workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to provide workplaces that are free from serious recognized hazards and to comply with the occupational safety and health (OSH) standards.

You also have the right to be an informed participant in your own occupational safety. For example, you are entitled to:

  • Review OSH Standards.
  • Request OSH information and observe OSH testing.
  • Access your own medical and exposure records.
  • Participate in training and other OSH compliance activities.
Safety Roles and Responsibilities
Meeting the OSH standards and keeping you safe are the shared responsibility of:

  • FEMA.
  • Your supervisor.
  • You, the employee.

We all work together to ensure a safe workplace.

Three ovals from left to write with the text FEMA, Supervisor, Employee all with arrows pointing to a fourth oval below with the text Workplace Safety

FEMA’s Role

Within FEMA, the Safety, Health and Medical Readiness Division (SHMR) is responsible for providing you with a safe workplace that complies with OSH standards. SHMR fulfills this role by:
  • Ensuring that the workplace is free from serious recognized hazards.
  • Establishing Agency-wide policies and programs to protect employees.
  • Providing occupational safety and health training.
  • Conducting evaluations and inspections to ensure that programs and procedures remain effective.

Safety Official’s Role

As part of FEMA’s commitment to safety, Safety Officials—including Disaster Safety Officers, Collateral Duty Safety Officers (CDSOs), and Safety Professionals—are responsible for implementing safety and health programs in the workplace. For example, during an incident, the Safety Official:

  • Ensures safe conditions for employees at FEMA operations.
  • Presents incident-specific briefings on potential hazards for those working in the field.
  • Conducts safety inspections and makes recommendations for improvement.
  • Responds to accidents, illnesses, injuries, and other emergencies that may arise.

However, Safety Officials can’t do it alone. They depend on each person to be vigilant for hazards and to take needed precautions.

A framework called the “hierarchy of controls” is used to select measures to protect employees from workplace hazards. The controls, listed from most effective to least effective, include:

  • Engineering and/or work practice controls.
  • Administrative controls.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE).

The types of measures that may be used are determined by performing a Job Hazard Analysis. Your Safety Official can assist you in determining the type and level of protection you need to remain safe in the workplace.

Supervisor’s Role

Supervisors play an important role in implementing safety policies and programs and promoting a proper attitude toward safety. For example, you can expect your supervisor to:
  • Ensure that all employees comply with occupational safety and health regulations.
  • Correct unsafe or unhealthful working conditions in a timely manner.
  • Allow employees to participate freely in training and other OSH-related activities.
  • Advise employees of their rights and responsibilities pertaining to safety programs.

Your Safety Responsibilities

You have a major responsibility for ensuring your own safety. Each employee is expected to cooperate with all aspects of the OSH program. This includes:
  • Complying with all rules and regulations.
  • Always using safe work practices.
  • Participating in safety training.
  • Cooperating with all investigations.
  • Reporting hazards, incidents, and near-misses.
  • Asking for help when needed to maintain your safety.

Ensuring Your Own Safety

There are several important ways to keep yourself safe on the job. First, be informed: Know the potential risks and hazards. Next, stay alert: Be aware of your surroundings and don’t be caught off-guard. Finally, protect yourself and others: Work safely, follow proper procedures, and report hazards.

Your Role: Be Informed

Every employee needs to be proactive in staying informed about potential risks and hazards at the workplace. This is especially true when you are deployed to the field.

For example, the JFO Disaster Safety Officer will brief incoming staff on incident-specific risks and hazards at disasters. Here are some things you can do to stay informed:

  • Attend all safety briefings. If necessary, request a safety briefing. Pay close attention during briefings, and ask questions when needed.
  • For a firsthand look at the site-specific Job Hazard Analysis and the Health and Safety Plan (HASP), contact the Safety Official at your site.

It is also a good idea to do your own information gathering. For example, you should:

  1. Find out local conditions so you’ll have appropriate clothing and gear.
  2. Learn the geography and plan your route accordingly.
  3. And, monitor local broadcasts for changing weather, alerts, and warnings.

Your Role: Stay Alert

A safe workplace begins with safety-conscious employees. Keep your eyes and ears open! Stay “tuned in” so you are aware of your surroundings and know what is going on around you.

Be on the lookout for potentially hazardous conditions. Fix hazards you are authorized and qualified to fix, such as mopping up spilled coffee, closing a drawer, or removing objects from stairways or aisles.

Report all hazards, including those you have fixed and any you are not authorized or qualified to fix, such as chemical spills, malfunctioning equipment, loose flooring or ceiling tiles, and suspicious packages.

In the field, don’t assume a situation is safe; check before you proceed.

Just as you practice defensive driving on the road, use the same caution off the road:

  • Look before you step.
  • Don’t get into situations you’re not trained to handle.
  • Always have at least two ways out of any potentially hazardous situation.

Voices of Experience: Stress and Fatigue

James, Community Relations Specialist: On my way back to my hotel one night, I noticed a car parked beside the road, and I thought I recognized another team from the Joint Field Office. So I pulled over and went to check on their situation. It turned out their car had broken down and they had no cell phone coverage. I was glad I could help . . . it’s important to watch out for each other’s safety.

Carla, Logistics Specialist: After working long hours in a hot warehouse getting supplies organized, I didn’t realize I had become dehydrated. One of my coworkers noticed I was flushed and acting unusually tired. She gave me water and looked after me until I was myself again. When I thanked her later, she reminded me that looking out for ourselves and for team members is everyone’s responsibility.

Reporting Hazards

If you see a hazardous situation that you can’t fix, you should report it to your supervisor. FEMA supervisors are responsible for coordinating corrective actions in a timely manner to eliminate unsafe or unhealthful working conditions.

You should also suggest ideas to improve safety whenever you see something that is not a hazard now, but that could be changed to make sure it doesn’t turn into a hazard.

We are always willing to consider changes to procedures, tools, or equipment to improve safety. Submit your ideas to your supervisor.

Safety, Health, and Medical Readiness Division Web site

If you have access to FEMA’s intranet, the SHMR Web site is a handy source of safety- and health-related information and resources.

It provides access to health- and safety-related publications, forms, procedures, training, and resources.



This lesson presented an overview of the shared responsibilities for workplace safety. You should now be able to:
  • List employee workplace rights.
  • Identify the safety roles and responsibilities of FEMA, the supervisor, and the employee.
In the next lesson you will learn about hazards you may encounter on the job and things you can do to protect yourself from those hazards.

Lesson 2: Workplace Safety: Doing Your Part

Lesson Overview

This lesson describes hazards you may encounter on the job and things you can do to protect yourself from those hazards. After completing this lesson you should be able to:
  • Identify potential workplace hazards.
  • Identify ways to protect yourself and others from various types of workplace hazards.

Introduction Audio Transcript

In any work setting—whether in a typical office, at a warehousing operation, in the field, or in another type of work environment—hazardous situations may develop that could compromise your health and safety.

For example, in an office environment, poor housekeeping practices can lead to workplace injuries from falling or running into unexpected objects. Colds, flu, and other infections can quickly spread among workers unless hygienic practices are used. Electrical and fire hazards may result from overloaded electrical circuits, use of frayed cords, and improper storage of flammable materials. Improper use and storage of chemical products may compromise workers’ health by exposing them to unsafe levels of toxic materials.

Potential mechanical hazards are present wherever office or other equipment is used. They can cause burns, cuts, and other injuries. Injuries from heavy lifting or repetitive motion are common in many work settings. And any time your work requires travel between locations, driver safety becomes an issue.

Prevention is the key to protecting yourself on the job. Remember—be informed, stay alert, and take precautions. This lesson will present precautions you can take to prevent potential hazards from developing into real hazards that can lead to injuries and illness.

Stay Safe—Use Common Sense (1 of 2)

The first defense against workplace injuries is to use common sense. No matter where you work or what type of work you do, you can protect yourself by following these simple guidelines:
  • Obey warning signs, and follow all safety procedures. Taking shortcuts can be risky business.
  • Don’t engage in horseplay. Many work injuries are the result of people horsing around with furniture or supplies.

Stay Safe—Use Common Sense (2 of 2)

  • Ask for help when you need it. Getting a coworker to help lift a heavy object, steady a ladder, or accompany you to your car may turn an unsafe situation into a safe one.
  • Take care of yourself by maintaining healthy sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids. Take rest breaks when possible, and talk about your feelings as needed.

Office Housekeeping To Prevent Accidents (1 of 2)

Safety is directly related to neatness. Items that are out of place and not where you expect them to be can cause accidents and injuries.
  • Keep work areas neat and organized. Eliminate clutter that can interfere with the work process or cause accidents. Return tools and supplies to their proper places.
  • Close drawers and doors. Leaving file drawers open creates tripping hazards, and leaving cabinet doors open can lead to head injuries.

Office Housekeeping To Prevent Accidents (2 of 2)

Safety is directly related to neatness. Items that are out of place and not where you expect them to be can cause accidents and injuries.
  • Maintain safe access. Make sure aisles, walkways, and stairwells are always free of objects. Keep clear access to fire-fighting equipment, first aid stations, evacuation routes, and emergency exits.
  • Take care of trash and spills. Dispose of trash promptly and properly. Wipe up spills if you’re sure the liquid is harmless. If you’re not sure, report the spill to your supervisor.

Infectious Disease in the Workplace

Colds, flu, and other infectious diseases—including the H1N1 virus (swine flu)—are caused by germs that are easily spread in the workplace.

For example, if someone who has the flu coughs or sneezes, the germs can pass through the air and enter your body through your nose or mouth.

If a surface like a telephone or door knob has been contaminated, you can pick up the germs by touching the surface and then touching your eye, nose, or mouth.

Avoid Spreading Germs: Wash Your Hands Often

Effective hand washing is the simplest, most effective thing you can do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Because your hands touch many surfaces in the course of a day, they are prime vehicles for transferring germs to your nose, mouth, and eyes—or to other surfaces where they can find their way into another person.

That’s why it’s so important to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Washing hands with soap and water

  1. Wet your hands thoroughly. If possible, use warm water.
  2. Use plenty of soap to get a good lather.
  3. Rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces. Wash for 15 to 20 seconds. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs. Don’t forget to get between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  4. Rinse.
  5. Wipe hands thoroughly with a clean paper towel.
  6. Turn off the water with a clean paper towel and dispose of the towel in a proper receptacle.

Electrical Hazards

In any work environment where electrical equipment is used, workers are exposed to electrical hazards that can cause burns, shocks, and electrocution. Following are some tips to avoid injury from electrical hazards:

Fire Hazards

  • Keep flammable supplies (paper, cardboard, etc.) away from hot office equipment, coffeemakers, and other heat sources.
  • Don’t run electrical cords under rugs. Electrical cords can cause fires, especially if the wire insulation is cracked.
  • Flammable/combustible liquids and aerosol cans pose a risk of fire and explosion if not properly used and stored. Keep them away from open flames, hot surfaces, electrical and mechanical sparks, and static electricity. Store them in proper containers and cabinets that are well labeled.

Chemical Hazards

Chemical products can become hazardous if not handled and stored properly. All employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace are required to:
  • Properly label all chemical containers. Labels must include contents, hazard warnings, precautionary and first aid instructions, and manufacturer contact information.
  • Have a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) available for each hazardous chemical. The SDS must identify ingredients and characteristics, physical/health hazards, primary routes of entry, exposure limits, safe handling precautions, control measures, first aid measures, and sources of additional information. Note:  Safety Data Sheets were previously referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
  • Train employees to handle the chemicals appropriately.

Using Chemicals Safely

  • Know the proper procedures when using chemicals, and follow them. Read the labels on any chemicals you use. Read SDSs/MSDSs for detailed information.
  • Use proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as identified by your Safety Official.
  • Store chemicals in a properly labeled area or cabinet. Isolate and separate incompatible materials.
  • Report chemical spills, and follow chemical disposal requirements. If exposed to unsafe chemicals, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Ensure that you have received the appropriate Hazard Communication training.
Select this link to learn how to read a chemical label.

Select this link to view a sample MSDS.

Mechanical Hazards

To avoid injury when using office machines or other types of equipment:
  • Ensure you are trained properly on the equipment.
  • Focus on the task at hand; don’t allow yourself to become distracted.
  • Observe all safety warning signs, including locks and tags on equipment, and make sure guards are in place.
  • Wear correct PPE when required, such as eye protection, hearing protection, boots, gloves, and hard hat, as identified by your Safety Official.

Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

MSDs are illnesses or injuries of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, arms, legs, neck, or lower back. MSDs are caused or made worse by sudden force, repetitive movement, constant vibration, or awkward posture.

Nearly 2 million U.S. workers report work-related MSDs every year. Approximately 600,000 of these workers need to take time off from work to recover. Ergonomics is a field of science that works to find solutions to ensure workers stay safe, comfortable, and productive.

Ergonomics can help you avoid MSDs.

Safe Driving Practices: Be Prepared

Vehicle accidents are the number one cause of worker deaths. If your job requires you to drive between work locations, use common sense to avoid accidents.
  • Know the driving laws and regulations for the areas in which you will be driving.
  • Know your route ahead of time.
  • Check the tires, fuel level, and condition of the vehicle before you leave.
  • Fasten seatbelts. FEMA requires that drivers’ and passengers’ seatbelts be fastened at all times.
  • When driving in storm-impacted areas, if possible plan to drive only during daylight hours.

Safe Driving Practices: Know Your Limits

  • Recognize when stress and fatigue affect your driving competence or your ability to handle frustrating driving conditions or drivers.
  • Don’t get behind the wheel if you are too tired.
  • Set a realistic goal for the number of miles you can drive safely each day.
  • Avoid medications that make you drowsy. If you are impaired by alcohol or any drug, do not drive.

Safe Driving Practices: Stay Focused

  • Avoid distractions: Driving requires your full attention. Avoid talking on the phone, texting, adjusting the radio, eating, drinking, or other distractions.

    By Executive Order, Government employees are prohibited from text messaging while driving on official business or while using Government supplied equipment.

  • Stay Alert: Take a break about every 2 hours.
Select this link to view the details of the Executive Order prohibiting texting while driving.

Safe Driving Practices: Use Caution

  • Drive defensively: Continually search the roadway for situations requiring quick action. Drive at legal speeds appropriate for the terrain and weather. Don’t tailgate: always leave a way out of any situation.
  • Avoid aggressive driving: Keep your cool in traffic. Be patient and courteous to other drivers, and don’t take other drivers’ actions personally. To reduce stress, plan ahead and allow plenty of travel time.

Reporting Vehicle Accidents

If you are involved in an accident while driving a Government vehicle (GSA, rental, or personal vehicle while on official sanctioned FEMA business), follow these guidelines:
  • Check for personal injuries and get help if needed.
  • Exchange information with the other driver.
  • Make the required notifications. For proof of insurance, check the glove compartment or rental contract.
  • Submit an accident report on form SF91.
Select this link for more information about reporting a vehicle accident. You may print this information as a tri-fold brochure.

Reporting Work-Related Illness or Injury

If you sustain an injury or illness in the performance of your duties, you may be entitled to the benefits of the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, including monetary compensation, medical care and assistance, travel to medical care, vocational rehabilitation, and other benefits.

To ensure that you receive all available assistance, you must report all job-related injuries or illnesses to your supervisor immediately.

Your supervisor will assist you with obtaining medical attention and direct you to use the website to enter appropriate forms to document the injury/illness causing incident.