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September 30, 2013
OSHA emphasizes safety in Colorado flood cleanup
By Emily Scace, Senior Editor, Safety

Along Colorado’s Front Range, residents and businesses are involved in the long process of cleaning up and repairing the damage from the historic floods earlier this month. And while everyone is eager to return to normal as quickly as possible, OSHA urges those doing cleanup work to take proper precautions and follow safe work practices.

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Whether it’s rebuilding washed-out roadways or simply cleaning up a flood-damaged small business, flood cleanup can involve many hazards, and employers must make sure their workers are protected. According to a September 25 press release from the agency, many disaster assistance and recovery centers along the Front Range offer educational materials on safe flood cleanup, including fact sheets, information about personal protective equipment (PPE), and more.

If your workers are involved in flood cleanup, here are some hazards to be aware of:

Electrical hazards. If standing water is or has been present near electrical circuits and equipment, workers can be in danger. Make sure to turn power off, and assume any downed power lines are live until you know otherwise. Stay away from flooded areas where there is a potential of electric shock, and avoid touching electrical equipment if the ground is wet. Workers who are trained to repair downed or damaged power lines must make sure to wear appropriate PPE and follow electrical safety work practices.

Mold. Often detectable by sight or smell, exposure to mold can cause sneezing, runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, aggravation of asthma symptoms, and dermatitis. To prevent these symptoms, make sure work areas are well ventilated and use hand, eye, and respiratory protection. Discard mold-damaged materials in plastic bags, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water, and disinfect cleaned surfaces with a bleach-and-water solution (¼ to 1½ cup bleach to 1 gallon water).

Wild animals. Dead and live wild animals and strays can spread disease, bite, and sting. Workers should wear long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts when working outdoors or in buildings that may be infested with rodents, snakes, or other animals. When removing debris, watch foot and hand placement and wear heavy gloves and boots. To protect against insect bites, insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin should also be used. Avoid contact with any animals you see and get medical treatment immediately if bitten or scratched. Treat insect bites and stings with over-the-counter products to relieve pain and prevent infection.

Tree and debris removal. When removing downed trees or clearing debris, make sure to avoid downed power lines and tree limbs in contact with power lines. In addition, workers can be in danger of falls from heights and being struck or crushed by falling tree limbs. Chain saws and other equipment can also pose hazards. To prevent injuries, workers should use PPE, including gloves, foot protection, eye protection, fall protection, hearing protection, and head protection, as appropriate.

Lifting injuries. Flood cleanup can put workers at risk of back, knee, and shoulder injuries from lifting and handling of sandbags, debris, fallen tree limbs, and other materials. Make sure workers use proper lifting techniques, use assistive devices whenever possible, and work in teams of two or more when necessary.

Chemical and biological hazards. In addition to mold, flood cleanup can involve other respiratory hazards. Chemical containers may float downstream and release their contents, and floodwaters may contain raw sewage, dead animals, and other biohazards. Workers should follow good hygiene practices: Wash hands with soap and clean water, particularly before breaks and meals and at the end of the work shift, and make sure to clean contaminated clothing and equipment. If hazardous chemicals may be present, workers should wear appropriate PPE, including chemical-resistant clothing, protective goggles, rubber gloves, and boots.

For more information on safe flood cleanup, refer to BLR’s Disaster Planning and Response Resource Center.

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