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May 02, 2014
11 tips for safe storm cleanup

With severe storms covering large portions of the country over the last several days, including deadly tornadoes in the South and flood watches from northern Florida to New England, OSHA is reminding recovery workers, employers, and the public to be aware of the hazards they can encounter during cleanup operations. Keep reading for tips to share with your workers.

Storm and tornado cleanup work can involve hazards relating to restoring electricity, communications, and water and services. Other hazards relate to demolition activities, cleaning up debris, roadway and bridge repair, hazardous waste operations, and tree trimming. To keep workers performing these operations safe, share these tips:

  1. Assume all power lines are live unless you know otherwise and keep a safe distance (at least 10 feet) away from them.
  2. Wear proper clothing when walking on or near debris, including boots and gloves.
  3. Be careful of sharp objects, such as nails and broken glass.
  4. Take proper safety precautions when operating generators, chainsaws, or other power tools.
  5. Monitor local radio or television stations for emergency information and be aware of possible structural, electrical, or gas-leak hazards.
  6. Exercise caution when entering any structure that has been damaged.

Flood cleanup also poses unique challenges, including dam and levee repair, removal of floodwater from structures, and repairing downed electrical wires in standing water. Those engaged in cleanup activities should be aware of the hazards associated with floodwaters, including rapidly rising water, strong currents, and more. Share these important safety tips with flood cleanup workers:

  1. Exercise caution when driving during flood conditions. Do not try to cross flooded roadways if you do not know the depth of the water—six inches of standing water is enough to stall some cars, a foot of water can float a vehicle, and two feet of moving water is enough to sweep a car away.
  2. Stay away from flooded areas that may be in contact with downed energized power lines or other sources of electricity.
  3. Standing or working in water colder than 75 degrees Fahrenheit can result in hypothermia, so make sure to wear proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions. Be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.
  4. Wear gloves, boots, and other appropriate protective clothing, and exercise good hygiene practices to protect yourself from potential chemical or biological hazards that may be present in floodwater.
  5. Workers near floodwater should not work alone and should wear Coast Guard–approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) to protect against drowning hazards. Even strong swimmers can be easily overcome by swiftly moving floodwater.

David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, commented, “Storm recovery efforts expose workers to a wide range of hazards, which can be mitigated by safe work practices and personal protective equipment.”

OSHA reminds employers that only workers provided with the proper training, equipment, and experience should conduct cleanup activities. In addition to the safety tips above, protective measures should involve evaluating the work area for hazards, employing engineering or work practice controls to mitigate hazards, using personal protective equipment, using all equipment properly, and paying attention to safety precautions for traffic work zones.

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