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Hurricane Preparedness (cont.)

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How can I prevent injuries after a hurricane?

When the wind and waters recede, people in the areas affected by a hurricane will continue to face a number of hazards associated with cleanup activities. Follow these guidelines to prevent injury.

Prevent fatigue-related injuries

Long hours of work, combined with exhaustion, can create a highly stressful situation during cleanup. People working on hurricane and flood cleanup can reduce their risks of injury and illness in several ways:

  • Set priorities for cleanup tasks and pace the work. Avoid physical exhaustion.
  • Resume a normal sleep schedule as quickly as possible.
  • Be alert to emotional exhaustion or strain. Consult family members, friends, or professionals for emotional support.

Wear protective gear

For most work in flooded areas, wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank).

Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce noise induced hearing risk from equipment noise. Equipment such as chain saws, backhoes, and professional dryers may cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and subsequent hearing damage.

Beware of electrical hazards

  • If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.
  • Never enter any area with standing water or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet, unless you are certain that the power is off. NEVER handle a downed power line.
  • When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the "off" position prior to starting the generator.
  • If clearing debris or other work must be performed near a downed power line, contact the utility company before entering the area to do work. Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact.

Avoid carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe. During flood cleanup, operate all gasoline-powered devices such as pumps, generators, and pressure washers outdoors and never bring them inside a building or home. This will help to ensure the safety from carbon monoxide poisoning for everyone.

Beware of structural instability

Never assume that water-damaged structures or the ground are stable. Buildings that have been submerged or have withstood rushing flood waters may have suffered structural damage and could be dangerous.

  • Don't work in or around any flood-damaged building until it has been examined and certified as safe for work by a registered professional engineer or architect.
  • Assume all stairs, floors, and roofs are unsafe until they are inspected.
  • Leave immediately if shifting or unusual noises are heard if you are in an area as they may signal a possible collapse.

Avoid hazardous materials

Flood waters can dislodge tanks, drums, pipes, and equipment which may contain hazardous materials such as pesticides or propane.

  • Do not attempt to move unidentified dislodged containers without first contacting the local fire department or hazardous materials team.
  • If working in potentially contaminated areas, avoid skin contact or inhalation of vapors by wearing appropriate protective clothing and respirators.
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash areas of skin that may have been exposed to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.
  • Contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Be prepared for fires

Fire can pose a major threat to an already badly damaged flood area. Fire protection systems may be inoperative, the fire department response may be hampered and water supplies may be inoperable.

Make sure you have at least one working fire extinguisher in your home. Natural gas lines may be disrupted; leave any area that has an unusual smell, notify the gas and fire departments, and do not use power equipment in the area as any sparks could cause fire or explosions if a gas line is broken and leaking.

Use care operating a home powered generator, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions including operating the generator outdoors.

Prevent drowning

When entering moving water, you are at risk for drowning regardless of your ability to swim. Individuals in vehicles are at the greatest risk of drowning, so it is important to comply with all hazard warnings on roadways and to avoid driving vehicles or heavy equipment into water of an unknown depth. NIOSH recommends you avoid working alone and wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket when working in or near flood waters.

Never walk into standing water after a storm, as you do not know how deep the water may be, or if there are active electrical lines hidden underneath.

Reduce the risk of thermal stress

While cleaning up after the hurricane, you are at risk for developing heat-related illness from working in hot environments where hurricanes form.

To reduce heat-related illness risks:

  • drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes
  • wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • take frequent rest breaks
  • work during the cooler hours of the day
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/13/2016


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