Safety Tips for Hurricane Cleanup and Recovery

Sept. 15, 2008
Business owners and managers should take specific steps to ensure their workers are safe during the potentially hazardous cleanup and recovery operations following Hurricane Ike or other natural disasters.

Insurance provider Zurich suggests organizations begin salvage operations after conducting an initial damage assessment and securing the facilities. Salvage operations may range from securing undamaged equipment and goods to salvaging electronic equipment, documents, furniture and other items.

Take care while working with any equipment that is water damaged to minimize electrical hazards and further damage. In addition, keep in mind that many salvage tasks require specialized skills and knowledge. Salvaging telecommunication equipment, electronic data and documents, for example, is a highly specialized task that is better left to professionals.

Zurich also offered the following tips to help protect workers’ safety and security during hurricane cleanup and recovery operations:

General safety/PPE:

  • Equip workers with a complement of routine safety equipment, such as hard hats, safety glasses, heavy work gloves and steel-toed safety shoes or boots.
  • Additional protective equipment, such as respirators, chemical protective gloves or suits, etc., should be provided as needed. A qualified safety professional should select proper equipment.
  • All activities should have a pre-plan meeting and be clearly communicated to all workers.
  • Clean, cool, portable water should be available for workers. In addition, workers should be encouraged to practice good personal hygiene, such as washing thoroughly before eating or at the end of a work shift.
  • Commercially available disinfecting solutions may be useful to allow workers to practice good personal hygiene.
  • Using chain saws and other equipment may present a noise exposure, requiring the use of hearing protection.
  • Flood and other disasters may result in hazardous material spills and leaks that can present significant environmental issues and injury potential among workers.

Structural Safety:

  • A visual inspection by a competent person for structural safety should be completed before entering any type of structure.
  • Emergency repairs of structural areas may be necessary to secure the structural elements including walls, ceilings and roofs.
  • A qualified structural engineer should review damaged areas before workers enter the area or perform work.
  • Watch for damage to structural elements of the building that may be weakened by standing water or during debris removal.
  • Isolate unsafe areas by use of physical barricades and other means, such as signage, to restrict access.

Tool Safety:

  • Tools should be examined to ensure they are in good working order. Any damaged tool should be taken out of service.
  • The electrical supply for power tools should be equipped with Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) protection.
  • Appropriate guards and safety devices should be in place on all chain and circular saws, drills, grinders and other equipment.
  • If gasoline or diesel generators or compressors are used, they should be placed in a manner to allow adequate venting of exhaust gases out of the work area to minimize creating a carbon monoxide exposure.

Working at Height:

  • Assure a steady, solid work area for all work at heights.
  • Use tie-off procedures if adequate guardrails are not present.
  • Inspect all ladders to ensure they are in good condition and monitor placement/use.
  • In unusual circumstances or when in doubt, wait to perform work at heights until adequate man lifts, scaffolding and/or other equipment is present.

Electrical Hazards:

  • Electrical and gas utilities may have been shut off by emergency service personnel. Ensure worker safety before they are restored.
  • Care should be taken around downed power lines until the local utility can verify that they have been de-energized. All downed power lines should be treated as “live” until de-energized process confirmation is received.
  • Caution should be taken with the potential for live electrical lines in standing water.
  • Shorted wiring and interior electrical systems may inadvertently energize standing water in basements or other areas posing a potential electrocution hazard.
  • Existing or repaired systems should be equipped with GFI protection.
  • Use of extension cords in wet areas should be avoided. In addition, any frayed or damaged electrical cords should be discarded.

Standing and Moving Water:

  • Use care when entering moving or standing water. Moving water can be dangerous for even good swimmers. Standing water can hide unexpected hazards, such as holes or tripping hazards.
  • Floodwaters may contain human or animal waste products as well as industrial or agricultural chemicals and petroleum products. Care should be taken to protect against skin, face and eye exposure.

Manual Material Handling:

  • Remove debris cautiously. Watch for movement or damage to building structural members that may present worker safety hazards.
  • Use proper techniques – lifting from the legs, not the back – to lift, keep the load close to the body and limit lifts to about 35-50 pounds.
  • Use buddy lifts with two or more people for larger or awkward lifts.
  • Walking and working surfaces may be wet or covered with sludge or other debris. Take care to avoid slips and falls and use proper, non-skid footwear.

Disease Prevention/First Aid:

  • There is a significant potential for disease from debris, waste and standing and contaminated water.
  • Assure that all workers have proper immunizations – see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Web site ( for suggested immunizations.
  • Provide first aid kits and properly trained personnel. All injuries, no matter how minor, should be reviewed by a trained first aid professional and treated accordingly.
  • Extra care should be taken in protecting broken skin – such as cuts or scrapes – to prevent disease transmission.
  • Ensure a supply of clean water or disinfecting solutions in order to allow workers to practice good personal hygiene.
  • Insects can be a vector for disease, so all workers should use insect repellent that contains DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide).
  • Post-flooding circumstances may also create a risk of snake and other reptile bites from animals trapped in structures during flooding. Flood-displaced rats may bring disease exposure and use of rat bait stations is recommended.
  • Humid, moist areas are prime breeding ground for mold and fungus growth. The sooner that debris can be removed and the space dried, the less chance of excessive mold growth. Workers should be cautioned to exercise care when working with wet debris. All debris should be disposed in an approved manner.

Confined Spaces:

  • All potential confined spaces should be reviewed by a qualified person. Air testing should be performed to ensure a safe atmosphere, and energy sources should be locked or blocked out. These steps must be taken before workers enter the space.
  • Standing water with organic waste materials or chemicals may generate an unusual atmospheric hazard where you might not normally expect one to exist.
  • Standing or moving water may have weakened structural members or moved materials, creating a potential collapse or engulfment hazard.

Heat/Physical Stress:

  • Much of the cleanup following a hurricane will be heavy work with the potential for high temperatures. Workers should be encouraged to drink cool, clean water several times per hour to maintain electrolyte balance.
  • Work should be scheduled so workers have a reasonable work/rest regimen of at least 15 minutes of rest per hour of work – more often in extremely hot temperatures because concentration and judgment can be adversely affected. Work scheduling should consider this and allow adequate rest times and facilities for workers.

Cleanup and recovery of minor damage can be handled with internal resources, whereas a major recovery operation will require working with contractors and salvage specialists, Zurich pointed out.

For more information about hurricane preparedness, visit

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