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Disaster response workers: are we doing enough to protect them?
  1. Malcolm R Sim
  1. Correspondence to Malcolm Sim, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Commercial Road, Melbourne, Vic 3004, Australia; malcolm.sim{at}

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The many natural and man-made disasters which have occurred around the globe over the past year have once again highlighted the critically important and dangerous work carried out by disaster response workers. We have witnessed the full range of disaster events, including floods, bushfires and a cyclone in Australia, floods in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, a volcanic eruption in Iceland, an earthquake in New Zealand, unusually severe snow storms in Northern Europe and what was described in the USA as ‘Snowmageddon’ by President Obama, flooding and landslides in Brazil, an oil rig explosion and resulting major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, widespread civil unrest throughout the Arab world, and last, but not least, the recent catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan. While the nature of the disasters and the countries involved vary considerably, the one constant is the selfless service of a large corps of disaster response workers, usually working long hours in difficult and tragic circumstances rescuing members of the public, cleaning up contamination and otherwise assisting communities, often at great personal risk.

Many of these disaster response workers are trained emergency services personnel who become the …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.