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After the Storm: Disaster Cleanup and Recovery

 

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In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and their subsequent flooding, those involved in cleanup activities will face many hazards left behind that could pose serious injury or even death without proper planning and care. Below is a list of hazards and protective measures to help during the cleanup process.

Contaminated Floodwaters

  • Assume all floodwater is contaminated unless proven otherwise.
  • Ventilate enclosed spaces with fresh air.
  • Allow only trained workers with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to clean up toxic chemicals, other hazardous waste, mold, and asbestos.
  • Use waterproof boots, latex or rubber gloves and other protective equipment. Consider using special chemical-resistant clothing, protective goggles, and a disposable respirator.
  • Keep an adequate supply of clean water available for drinking and washing.
  • Dangerous wildlife, such as snakes and alligators, may be present in floodwaters, or in areas where fold waters have receded. DO NOT approach or feed animals; contact the Parks & Wildlife Department.

Electrical Safety

  • Assume all power lines are live or energized.
  • Establish and clearly mark a danger zone around downed lines.
  • Stay at least 10 feet from all downed lines.
  • Allow only trained and equipped workers to repair electrical lines.
  • Utilize Ground Fault Circuit Interruption (GFCI) devices when using electrical equipment, regardless if connected to utility provided power sources or generator sources.

Residential Owners - The following precautions are recommended to ensure personal safety, avoid costly damage to physical equipment and minimize the financial losses as residents return:

  • Do not enter a home or building where there is standing water inside until you are sure the main power is off.  
  • If there’s evidence of flooding and you’re not sure if the main power has been turned off, do not attempt to turn it off. Contact an electrician or your electric utility.
  • Locate the main panel to see if any circuit breakers or fuses have tripped if there is no electricity upon return.
  • If there are any signs of smoke, fire or water damage near electrical outlets, immediately unplug all items in the area and contact an electrician or your electric utility.
  • If there is any indication of natural gas or liquefied petroleum leaks, leave the area immediately and contact your utility company at once.

Business Owners - The following are steps that may be taken to increase worker safety if dealing with wet electrical equipment:

  • Electrical equipment that has been exposed to flood waters must be inspected by a licensed professional using instructions from the manufacturer and industry guidelines.
  • In general, most electrical equipment exposed to flood water will require replacement. There are exceptions to this rule for larger equipment, which may be reconditioned by trained factory service personnel.
  • Inspection personnel should contact the equipment manufacturer for direct guidance on the equipment evaluation.

Debris Removal

  • Discard water-damaged and visibly contaminated materials.
  • Establish and clearly mark a danger zone around debris and where tree debris may fall.
  • Allow only trained workers with proper PPE such as work gloves, a hard hat, work boots, hearing protection, and eye/face protection to clean up debris.
  • Use mechanical equipment to lift heavy objects.
  • Up-to-date with tetanus vaccination.

Slips, Trips, & Falls

  • Use safety procedures to prevent aerial lift tip-overs.
  • Utilize fall protection.
  • Use proper ladder safety. Do not use aluminum ladders in an area where electrical hazards may be present.
  • Be aware of wet or slippery surfaces, obstacles, or uneven surfaces.

Hand Tools and Equipment

  • Only utilize equipment that you are familiar with, and comfortable with using.
  • Ensure proper personal protective equipment use when using tools such as chainsaws, hammers, nail guns, or impact tools.
  • Exercise caution when using ATV’s, tractors, or other heavy equipment, especially on slopes or uneven terrain. Please follow all manufacturers’ safety information.
Personal Health
  • Use a high SPF sunblock when working.
  • Use a Deet-based bug repellent while outside.
 

Additional safety considerations can be found in this OSHA Fact Sheet.

 

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