November 09, 2012

Protecting members in storm damaged areas

Author: Wendy Hord
Source: Workplace Health and Safety

In hurricane flood damaged areas, water and wind have devastated homes, schools and businesses. Many buildings and their contents have been wet for days, creating serious potential health hazards, especially mold. Floodwater can contain hazardous chemicals and sewage with infectious organisms such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Hepatitis A Virus and agents of typhoid and tetanus.

General Precautions

To help our members, NYSUT is offering these tips to avoid injury or health problems for anyone reoccupying these buildings:

  • Assume that hazards mentioned above may be present. Additional hazards can include asbestos, lead, and toxic chemicals. Physical hazards include building collapse or shift, electricity, unstable debris piles, and explosion. 
  • Do not engage in major cleanup or restoration until you have identified the potential hazards and take precautions to avoid injury and exposure. For large scale cleanup in residences with these hazards, you should strongly consider hiring contractors with this expertise.
  • Do not work or continue to work if you smell natural gas. Get out and call the local utility company emergency number.
  • When working with debris, wear work boots with puncture-resistant soles and cut and puncture-resistant gloves. If there’s any danger of falling debris, wear an ANSI-approved hard hat

Mold

  • If there is still standing water or dampness inside the building (beyond normal humidity levels), it should not be occupied.
  • Any materials such as those in the building structure or contents and furnishings that cannot be dried out within 24-48 hours must be discarded and replaced to avoid exposure to unhealthy levels of mold and bacteria.
  • Anyone doing mold remediation needs to wear appropriate personal protective equipment and follow work practices and procedures that assure a safe and effective clean-up.
  • People with asthma, mold allergies or other respiratory conditions, people with weakened immune systems, children and pregnant women SHOULD NOT do this work and MUST remain out of these buildings until the work is finished.
  • There are many good resources below to help you assess whether cleanup efforts are effective and protect people's health. Many of these resources also tell you how to further protect yourself if you are doing cleanup.

Other Precautions

  • Personal hygiene: wash hands often, especially before and after eating, drinking, smoking or using the bathroom. Use hand wipes or liquid sanitizers if soap and water is not available. Remember, hand sanitizers do not get dirt off hands. Remove clothes outside where you are living and shower as soon as you get in. Wash "work" clothes separately from other clothes, running the washer with a 10:1 water/bleach solution in between loads.
  • First Aid: Have a first aid kit available and a way to call for help. Clean abrasions/cuts immediately and apply antibiotic ointment and bandage(s).

Homes/housing:

  • A guide originally developed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help homeowners and contractors safely to clean up homes is available at: Creating a Healthy Home- A Field Guide for Clean- Up of Flooded Homes
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Information) has a website - http://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/hurricane/index.html – to keep disaster site workers safe during hurricane and storm cleanup and recovery operations. The web page contains fact sheets, concise "quick cards," frequently asked questions, safety and health guides, and information in English and Spanish. To request an inspection of a hazardous working condition, call OSHA at (800) 321-6742.
  • NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) has information on work-related hazards that could be encountered include: electrical hazards, carbon monoxide, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, motor vehicles, hazardous materials, fire, confined spaces and falls. Links to information about hazards associated with storm and flood cleanup can be found at: www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/flood.html.
  • The Centers for Disease Control web site about potential problems of flood water contamination: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/cleanupwater.asp.

Schools and Other Workplaces:

  • There are many choices for information on floods, water damage and mold cleanup. We think that the information on EPA's web site is comprehensive and highly recommended. There is info on health and mold, large buildings and mold, etc. For a complete guide on mold remediation in schools and commercial buildings, click on "Publications" on this mold resources page: http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldresources.html.

From Creating A Healthy Home: A Field Guide For Clean-Up Of Flooded Homes