How to stay safe while engaging in recovery work after Hurricane Harvey

The team here at IndustrySafe have been inspired by the first responders and emergency personal who are taking on the massive cleanup of the communities across southeast Texas and those assisting in the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Irma. It is at this time we want to remind these emergency responders and volunteers to stay safe and be on the lookout for potential dangers while on the scene.

It is important that emergency workers always evaluate their work locations for hazards before beginning. Roadways where flooding has subsided can still be obstructed or slippery, leading to hazardous driving conditions. Workers should assume that all power lines are live, particularly in the areas in which flooding remains. Other potential risks to be wary of include carbon monoxide poisoning, confined spaces, exposure to hazardous waste, struck-by, and drowning hazards.

OSHA provides a voluntary four-day Outreach Training Program for disaster site workers to warn them how a disaster site differs from the construction sites that they are familiar with. In a public statement, Acting Assistant Secretary of OSHA Loren Sweatt stated “While we [at OSHA] want recovery operations to begin as quickly as possible, we want [first responders] to be safe while [they] are helping others.” and encouraged emergency personal to review OSHA’s pages on flooding and hurricane preparedness.

OSHA has also noted that emergency workers should also mindful of their personal protective equipment (PPE) when engaged in rescue and recovery work. Recommended PPE for working in affected areas include protective footwear, rubber boots, safety gloves, disposable respiratory masks, protective eye-wear, and chemical suits.

Chemical suits may seem excessive at first, but remember floodwaters are likely to contain disease-causing bacteria and even chemicals. Be on the lookout for any symptoms of bacterial infections which include abdominal cramps, nausea, and sore muscles. If exposed to potentially toxic chemicals in floodwaters, keep an eye out for signs of dizziness, nausea, skin rashes, and fatigue. Having waterproof and chemical-resistant PPE while performing recovery work will reduce the risk of exposure to these harmful bacteria and chemicals.

Our thoughts go out to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Please stay safe.