Hurricanes Sandy, Irma, Katrina, and most recently Florence, are just a few of the many weather disasters over the past few years. They come, wreak havoc, destroy property, and leave a mess for people to clean up afterwards. When involved in the cleanup work after these powerful storms, it is important to protect yourself and your workers from the health dangers you’re likely to encounter.
Hurricanes and Floodwaters
Hurricanes are a combination of severe storms, extremely strong winds, and heavy rainfalls. They lead to the mass destruction of property and in the aftermath, pose many health hazards. Because of the focus on buildings and trees being uprooted by strong winds, many often forget another dangerous part of hurricanes: floods and floodwater. In addition to destroying property, floodwater also creates a number of hazardous conditions.
The Destructive Nature of Floodwater
During floods, water seeps into everything and everywhere—this is what makes it so dangerous. It mixes with dangerous bacteria from the sewage, with pesticides and agricultural chemicals, and with flammable household liquids and cleaning products; it flows into electrical circuits, it stirs up asbestos and propagates mold growth. It also displaces many dangerous insects and rodents, forcing them to look for a new place to nest.
Protective Equipment Guidelines
Floodwater can contain many health hazards. Because cleanup crews will be the first people in contact with flooded buildings, it is important that they are aware of the dangers they are about to face. This is why quality personal protective equipment (PPE) is so important. Here are some of the PPE guidelines released by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) for storm, flood, and hurricane response with information extracted from an OSHA fact sheet that was released during Hurricane Sandy Cleanup.
- Protection from floodwater contaminants
Comfortable, form-fitting, water-tight, and chemical-resistant coveralls; hoods, steel toe boots, latex/rubber gloves are all necessities. All protective clothing must be worn in such a way that no expanse of skin is exposed to the contaminated water.
- Protection from debris
In addition to the PPE in (a) above, work sites that are riddled with debris require tough and cut-resistant gloves along with ANSI-rated hardhats wherever there is a danger of falling debris.
- Protection from airborne contaminants
In addition to the watertight suit, boots, and gloves, buildings with mold growth or other airborne hazards require respiratory equipment. An N95-rated disposable respirator can be used in combination with a face shield or you could opt for a full-face respirator.
Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is a great first step in protecting yourself and your workers from the hazards that come with hurricane cleanup. However, there are some basic precautions to also keep in mind. First, if you have any wounds, seal them tightly with waterproof material as floodwater carries numerous kinds of diseases and open wounds provide an easy entry point for them. At sites where there is even a small likelihood of asbestos or lead-based compounds, it is extremely important to wear respirators. Also, take regular breaks and drink lots of water to avoid exhaustion. During breaks, clean your hands thoroughly with clean water and soap before eating or drinking. To be extra safe, you may use alcohol-based hand sanitizers afterwards.
Finally, it is not safe to use electrical sockets that have been flooded in order to run cleaning/drying equipment. Before using them, have an electrician inspect them and replace components that have been soaked in water. While inspecting/changing electrical components, ensure that the technician wears gloves.
International Enviroguard has a section dedicated entirely to protective equipment required for remediation and cleanup. Our Body Filter 95+® is a full-body protective garment that filters out particles in a manner similar to an N95 respirator. Designed with optimal airflow and breathability it is also exceptionally tough and resistant to rips and tears. International Enviroguard also offers additional items to support disaster and floodwater cleanup. See our information sheet on our full lineup of protective clothing for flood and hurricane cleanup.
Please contact us at 800-345-5972, or at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your protective equipment needs and options for disaster cleanups. We would also be happy to send you a sample of any of our quality products.