In flood cleanup, here’s how to stay safe and healthy

Disaster cleanup workers take breaks and keep hydrated when temperatures are high, as is forecast this week.

Floods can kill, but so can the cleanup, if you aren’t careful, says Anna Goodman Hoover, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.

“As people try to re-enter flood-damaged properties, the risk of serious injury and even death is high,” Hoover told Kentucky Health News. She shares a package of “vetted materials from various agencies and environmental/disaster organizations that provide safety information for re-entering, cleaning up, etc.”
The college’s Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health has created a web page with a wide range of resources for people to stay safe and healthy in flooding. Here are selected examples from Hoover’s package of how to protect yourself.
• Wash your hands often to avoid exposure to harmful substances.
• Use hand sanitizers frequently.
• Exercise good housekeeping.
• Only drink from proven potable water sources.
• Be careful walking over and handling debris that is covered with water, to avoid risk of slips, trips and falls.
• Remain current with tetanus vaccination (within the past 10 years).
• If exposed to stagnant water, wash and sanitize immediately.
• If injured by sharp or jagged materials, immediately clean out all open wounds with soap and clean water. If a wound gets red, swells, or oozes, seek immediate medical attention.
• Consider steel toe/shank footwear if available and use durable gloves for handling debris.
• Watch for exposed power lines.
• Use hearing protection for noisy environments.
• Use appropriate breathing apparatus to avoid inhaling dust containing asbestos, silica and other lung-damaging substances.
• Avoid sunburn by limiting exposure, using protective eyewear and using sunscreen and lip balm.
To avoid heat stress:
• Drink plenty of fluids, sports drinks if available.
• Monitor yourself and coworkers, use the buddy system.
• Block out direct sun or other heat sources.
• Use cooling fans and/or air conditioning, and rest regularly.
• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
• Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or heavy meals.
• Seek medical attention for symptoms of: extremely high body temperature (above 103°F); red, hot, and dry skin (without sweating); rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache, dizziness or nausea.
• Take shelter in shaded areas and loosen or remove excess protective clothing if feasible.

To avoid traumatic stress:
• Pace yourself and take frequent rest breaks.
• Watch out for each other and identify nearby hazards.
• Be conscious of those around you. Exhausted responders or stressed responders may put themselves and others at risk.
• Maintain as normal a schedule as possible; regular eating and sleeping are crucial.
• Whenever possible, take breaks away from the work area.
• Recognize and accept what you cannot change—the chain of command, organizational structure, waiting, equipment failures, etc.
To avoid eye injury:
• Use safety glasses with side shields; a retainer strap is suggested.
• Consider safety goggles for protection from fine dust particles; can be used over regular prescription glasses.
• Any worker using a welding torch for cutting must have special eye wear to protect against welding flash, which causes severe burns to the eyes and surrounding tissue.
• Use only protective eyewear that has an ANSI Z87 mark on the lenses or frames.
Avoid the hazards of floodwaters:
• There are usually elevated levels of contamination associated with raw sewage and other hazardous substances in floodwaters.
• Minimize human contact with flood water.
• Wear waders and waterproof gloves.
• If skin comes into contact with floodwater, wash thoroughly with soap and water.
• Keep all open cuts or sores as clean as possible.
• Use antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin.
• Stay alert for flash flooding.
• Floodwater may contain chemicals, diesel fuel, gasoline, motor oil, chlorine, liquid oxygen, medical waste, corrosives and industrial and household products in all sizes and quantities.
Watch your work environment:
• Do not enter a structure that shows indication of being unsafe such as walls with large cracks, shifting, or partial collapse.
• Determine if any hazardous substances have been anywhere on the property including pipes and tanks.
• Don’t walk on surfaces you aren’t sure are stable.
• Use other ways to get to work surfaces, such as bucket trucks.
• Erect scaffolding on stable surfaces and anchor it to stable structures.
• Wear protective equipment provided, including safety shoes with slip resistant soles.
• Use fall protection with lifelines tied off to suitable anchorage points, including bucket trucks, whenever possible.
• After flooding, the water creates the perfect environment for mold to grow in homes and other buildings. Exposure to mold can cause wheezing and severe nasal, eye and skin irritation.
• Floods chase animals from their burrows, increasing the risk of snakebite.

At home:

• Reconnect with family, spiritual, and community supports.
• Do not make any big life decisions.
• Spend time with others or alone doing the things you enjoy to refresh and recharge yourself.
• Be aware that you may feel particularly fearful for your family. This is normal and will pass in time.
• Remember that “getting back to normal” takes time.
 • Be aware that recovery is not a straight path but a matter of two steps forward and one back. You will make progress.
• You need to support your family and recognize that you are not going through this along.
• Avoid overuse of drugs or alcohol.
• Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat: Food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water; food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture; meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more; food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned items; these cannot be disinfected if they have been in contact with floodwater
• If power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible
• Add block ice or dry ice to your refrigerator if the electricity is expected to be off longer than four hours.
• Wear heavy gloves when handling ice
Employers: Federal law “requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace free of recognized hazards and to follow Occupational Safety and Health Act standards. Employers’ responsibilities also include providing training, medical examinations and record keeping. For more information, go to www.osha.govor call 1-800-321-OSHA(6742).
Employees should “follow the employer’s safety and health rules and wear or use all required gear and equipment, and follow safe work practices for your job, as directed by your employer.” Report hazardous conditions to a supervisor, and to the state OSHA agency, if employers do not eliminate them.
The above information originated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
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