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Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology

Stay Safe During Clean-up and Recovery: Resources for Recovery and Clean-up Workers, Volunteers, and Residents

Storm and flood cleanup activities can be hazardous. Workers, volunteers and residents involved with flood cleanup should be aware of the potential dangers involved, and take proper safety precautions.

Potential Hazards

  • carbon monoxide exposure (from generators, power tools, power washers, etc.)
  • drowning from wading or driving through floodwaters
  • risk of injury from debris, sharps, unstable structures
  • electrical hazards (e.g., electrocution hazards, backfeed power from portable generators)
  • contaminated floodwaters or standing water
  • heavy machinery
  • heat related illness and sun overexposure
  • motor vehicles
  • animal bites and stings
  • contaminated housing materials (lead, asbestos, mold)

General Tips

  • Be aware of the situation. Listen to local officials for updates and instructions about hazardous conditions.
  • Inspect your work site before any work begins.
  • Stay out of flood waters.
  • Clean up debris carefully to avoid injury and exposure to contaminants.
  • Use personal protective equipment as needed.  If working near contaminated water or soil, wear waterproof clothing to include rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.  Wear a mask (preferably an N-95 dust mask) if doing demolition and clean up.
  • Stay hydrated. If working in areas without access to clean, running water, bring water with you.
  • Normal drinking water sources may not be safe. Use bottled, boiled or treated water when local authorities recommend it.  This applies to food prep, hand washing, dish washing, brushing teeth, cooking, making ice.
  • Eat safe food – when in doubt, throw it out.
  • Never touch downed power lines.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before eating, drinking and smoking.
  • Chainsaws and electrical tools should only be operated in safe conditions (not in water-soaked areas), follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Protect yourself from carbon monoxide exposure by only using gas-burning equipment (e.g., saws, generators) in well-ventilated areas.
  • Have sunscreen, insect repellant, and lip balm available.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you are injured or become ill.

Before Work Begins (for volunteer and work group supervisors):

  • Before deployment, a person should be designated to be in charge
  • Determine capabilities of workers and assign roles
  • Clarify policy on personal protective equipment use and who will supply it
  • All workers and volunteers should be current with Tetanus vaccination
  • Conduct a pre-work briefing to discuss roles, safety and required supplies
  • Gather emergency contact information from all workers
  • Conduct head counts before deployment, after arrival at the site and at the end of work
  • The person in charge should check on workers frequently

Resources

Below are resources that describe in detail, hazards that people helping with response, clean-up, and recovery may face and recommendations to prevent injuries and illnesses.

 General Safety and Health Information

 Asbestos and Lead Guidance

 Mold Cleanup and Exposure Prevention Guidance

 General Home Cleaning Guidelines and Precautions

  • Keep children and pets out of affected area until clean-up has been completed. People with a weakened immune system, especially people receiving treatment for cancer, people who have had an organ or stem cell transplant, and people taking medicines that suppress the immune system, should avoid cleaning up mold. Children under 12 should not enter a building with mold damage.
  • When told it is safe to return home, clean up and dry your home quickly to prevent mold growth
  • When in doubt, throw in out, remove all porous items (e.g.drywall, carpet) that have been wet for more than 48 hours and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried (major source of potential mold growth)
  • Thoroughly clean hard surfaces with hot water and laundry/dish detergent
  • Discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected like furniture
  • Wash contaminated clothes and separate from noncontaminated ones
  • Handle electrical equipment carefully. Don’t touch electrical devices if ground is wet unless you know power is off. Call an electrician to turn off main power switch or turn power back on if water damage is apparent.
  • Volunteer work or work by owners may be limited to clean out and tear out; certain work such as a/c repairs or structural damage may require licensed professionals and building permits.
  • Cities and towns may have flood repair policies.  It may look like this:  If electrical equipment, drywall and HVAC equipment been submerged, those doing home repair must obtain proper permits before any work starts. There may be no charge for permits related to the storm.
  • More information can be found at
    NC DPH: After the Flood: Getting Back into Your Home Safely (PDF)
    FEMA: The ABC’s of Returning to Flooded Buildings (PDF)
    FEMA: Initial Restoration for Flooded Buildings (PDF)

 Environmental Public Health Workers

 Healthcare Providers

 Recovery Workers

 

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