Over the past few weeks, Hurricane Harvey and Irma have caused severe devastation and destruction to Texas, Florida and various other parts of the Southeastern United States. These powerful storms brought high winds, torrential rain and severe flooding, that damaged homes and businesses in these regions.
Even weeks after the initial storm, some areas are still underwater, while others prepare for the massive cleanup effort that must now take place. While the storms may be over, there are still many dangers including mold, exposed materials and falling objects that crews will face.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are a number of potential hazards present after a hurricane, including:
floodwater (it is often tough to discern how deep certain areas are and the strength of the current)
Contaminated food and water
Electrical hazards from damaged power lines and electrical equipment
Unstable buildings or roads
Wild or stray animals
Carbon monixide from generators
Mosquitoes and other insects
Additional effects may include physical and emotional strain, musculoskeletal injuries from moving objects, heat stress and dehydration and infection from open wounds. Understanding these hazards and having the proper protective equipment will help ensure the safety of those helping in the cleanup effort and prevent further injuries.
Below we have outlined those dangers and the protective equipment that should be worn.
1) Head Protection
Storms and flood damage can create a staggering amount of hazards and risks for head injuries in both indoor and outdoor environments. Head protection is necessary in any situation where there is a risk for falling objects, impact from protruding objects and potential contact with electrical hazards. It can be tough to discern the risk for these hazards after a storm, so employees should always wear the proper head protection to protect against injury. When selecting the proper head protection look for equipment that meets the impact and insulation requirements of ANSI Z89.1-2014.
2) Eye and Face Protection
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified potential eye and face hazards during emergency response and disaster recovery, which includes impact and airborne dusts from concrete and metal particles, chemical exposure, cutting and welding light and electrical arcing among others. Some of the potential injuries include corneal abrasions and conjunctivitis, concrete or metal particles embedded in the eye, chemical splash or burn, welder's flash and more.
Those assisting in cleanup and disaster recovery should always wear safety spectacles, hybrid safety spectacles or hybrid goggles to protect themselves. Additionally, if the situation warrants, secondary face protectors should be worn to protect against other hazards.
3) Hearing Protection
One of the most overlooked areas during these cleanup efforts is hearing protection. OSHA collected data between September and December 2005 that showed twenty percent of the 324 employees who worked after hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma experienced noise exposure levels above the 90 dBA 8-hour permissible limit. This type of exposure was most common among workers involved in debris collection, site clearing and those operating heavy equipment like chain saws and chippers. It is important for employees involved in these activities or exposed to these activities to wear the proper hearing protection to prevent hearing loss and other future problems.
4) Respiratory Protection
Due to the massive amount of water, a major concern after a hurricane is mold. All of the moisture breeds mold which can cause a host of health problems for those without the proper equipment. A professional mold remediator should be contacted to evaluate the situation, but for those who may interact with mold during the early stages of cleanup it is important to have the proper protection. A respirator should be worn during cleanup to prevent toxic spores from entering the system and also to protect against gases, vapors and asbestos exposure. There are multiple respirators to choose from and the type (half mask vs. full face piece) and filter (95 vs. 100) depend on the size of the area and hazards that may be present.
Additionally, other forms of protection should be worn to ensure the safety of those assisting in cleanup efforts. This includes coveralls to protect against moisture, mold and other harmful chemicals that may be present, as well as foot coverings. If there are electrical hazards or the risk for electrical contact, arc flash equipment should also be made available.
Hurricane and after storm cleanup can present many dangers for those assisting in the effort. It is important to provide the proper equipment to ensure the safety of those involved.