"People think it’s never going to happen, so they don’t want to spend the time and money on preparedness," says Michael McCann, safety director for the Center to Protect Workers Rights, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Dept.

The federal government does not set specific rescue standards for construction or for general industry. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversees a general construction safety standard and separate rules aimed at specific practices such as steel erection or crane operation.

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Those sector rules have rescue components, but there is no single standard specific to rescue. Some in the industry have sought more detail, such as what defines "prompt rescue" in the fall protection rules. But OSHA is not likely to provide answers any time soon. The Bush administration advocates less regulation and more voluntary programs.

In lieu of federal rules, industry ex-ecutives have come together under the leadership of the American National Standards Institute to draft two new independent subparts to the existing ANSI A10 Safety Requirements for Construction and Demolition Operations. The A10 accredited standards committee dates back to 1944 and now consists of 66 representatives from trade groups, corporations, consultants and government entities. There are more than 40 individual standards under A10.

On the drawing board for the last two years is A10.26, which addresses emergency procedures, including rescues, for construction sites. Another proposed standard being drafted, A10.45, will set minimum criteria for disaster response preparedness during construction and demolition operations.

Neither standard, once each works its way through the lengthy approval and accreditation process, will be all encompassing or specific. "Emergency procedures are actually pretty complicated to develop because you have so many contingencies you have to plan for," says McCann, chairman of the A10.26 subcommittee. Normal evacuation routes may not be available during a disaster and familiarity with local resources is critical. Sometimes the nearest hospital may not have a needed burn unit, McCann says.

"It is probably impossible to write a regulation that deals with every foreseeable emergency or catastrophe," says Matt Burkart, a past chairman of the full A10 committee and president of Aegis Corp., Southampton, Pa. Instead, there should be requirements to simply have an emergency preparedness plan in place and guidelines for what it should entail, he says. "It involves more than calling 911," Burkart maintains.

Emergency plans must be adaptable for the site, says McCann. "Most contractors don’t have the expertise to develop these on their own." The ANSI guidelines will help shape issues such as the proper number of persons trained in first aid who should be on a site for every 100 workers.

With heightened concerns about liability, many owners are becoming proactive, requiring general contractors to keep an incident log. "Owners are one of the biggest driving forces in safety in construction," says McCann.

Any plan should also include a point person who works with local responders. When a trench caves in, one of the first actions required under OSHA’s trench standard is to shore up the trench to halt further collapse. Most trench rescues are handled by the local fire department, whose experts are usually trained in shoring, says H. Berrien Zettler, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction. "We believe that our standards are reasonably adequate to address the kinds of situations that rescuers are likely to run into," he adds.

n the chaos of a construction site accident, it’s too late to begin crafting a rescue or emergency response plan. But federal regulations are largely silent when it comes to needed specifics. Although some privately led efforts are under way, contractors and owners could face a jobsite emergency they are not prepared to handle.