Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma brought catastrophic flooding to many areas last month. As the flood waters recede, thousands of people are now doing the difficult work of cleanup and recovery.
If you are cleaning up from flood damage, make sure to check out OSHA’s tips on staying safe. However, you must remember most of these tips are just general guidelines. Some operations, like utility restoration, hazardous material cleanup, and search and rescue must be performed by workers who have been properly trained.
Here are some general tips to remember:
Stay Out of Flood Waters
You might be tempted to wade in the flood waters, but beware: the water may be deeper than you think. Water levels can also rise unexpectedly. Flood waters can contain dangerous materials and debris, causing cuts and other wounds, if you are not careful. Flood water is sometimes contaminated with both chemicals and germs that can make you sick.
Avoid Electrical Hazards
If high water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power as soon as possible at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Never enter flooded areas or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet. Assume any downed electrical lines are energized and don’t come within 10 feet of them. Just wait… only trained utility workers should repair downed electrical lines.
Safely Remove Debris
Fallen debris and downed trees can actually hide electrical lines. These electrical lines can cause electrocution, if you are not careful. Falling tree limbs and improperly using chainsaws and wood chippers present additional hazards. Remember to always use proper protective equipment when operating power tools. Make sure to watch your step on slippery and uneven surfaces as well.
Gasoline- and diesel-powered generators, pumps, and pressure washers all release carbon monoxide. This is an odorless, but deadly, gas. Only operate these machines outdoors and never inside confined spaces. Mold, which can cause respiratory illness, eye irritation, and skin rashes, often appears after flooding as well. You can clean moldy items with detergent and water, and disinfect cleaned surfaces with 0.25 cups of household bleach in one gallon of water for light contamination, and up to 1.5 cups of bleach per gallon of water for heavier contamination. However, do not mix bleach with other cleaning products that contain ammonia.
Visit OSHA’s hurricane recovery page for more tips on staying safe, and to learn more about how the U.S. Department of Labor is supporting communities affected by these recent storms.