TAMPA, Fla. -- In any disaster response mission, one of the Corps of Engineers biggest priorities is to support immediate life-saving and life-safety emergency response priorities, and to do it safely.

To do this, the Corps deploys safety specialist to help Corps employees and contractors work in a more safety-focused environment. To safety professionals, disaster response is a component of their day-to-day mission, said Jason Walsh, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, safety specialist. Walsh added that during emergency operations, it is extremely important that safety and occupational health requirements are implemented to prevent additional disasters.

Implementing safety has been an important aspect of the Corps' blue roof mission in Florida following Hurricane Irma's landfall Sept. 10. Eduardo Garcia, Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District safety specialist, said the district knew there would be challenges with installing more than 15,000 temporary roofs across the entire state. He said the Corps assigned four safety specialist to assist and advise the blue roof team.

Walsh said one of the biggest hurdles the safety team has faced thus far is the size of the affected area. "Blue roofs needed to be installed across Florida from the Keys to Clay County, [near Jacksonville, Florida]." he said. "This made doing onsite safety inspections of work crews challenging." Despite the challenges, Walsh said the team has been able to adapt to meet the mission requirements. "We [talk] daily with our teams across the state to communicate safety concerns," he said. "We listen to the contractors and the mission managers so we can advise on the safe protocols to accomplish the mission. As time went by we've seen less and less safety deficiencies."

Upon the establishment of Operation Blue Roof, the safety team initially identified three key hazards associated with the blue roof mission. Walsh said they were concerned about falls from roofs since this is a leading cause of accidents in the construction industry; properly using ladders for the work; and heat illnesses. To mitigate these concerns, Walsh said the safety team developed a plan to provide awareness of the hazards. He said they developed and shared safety alerts, lessons learned, trends and their observations from the field with the goal of reducing exposure to them. "Something as simple as taking a moment to set your ladder up correctly, taking two minutes to install that anchor point, or taking a 10 minute break to drink some water and get some shade just might prevent you from a serious injury, even death," he said.

Reflecting on the mission thus far, Walsh said it has reinforced the importance of a team approach to building an entrenched safety culture. "Mission leadership support and involvement is critical in building and sustaining a safe work environment," he said

The safety team also includes John Alden, Safety Specialist, Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District safety specialist, and Peter Licciardi, Engineer Research Development Center, in New Hampshire.