NIOSH/CDC Safety Precautions for Flood Cleanup Workers

Source: Lt. Zachary West - U.S. Department of Defense

NIOSH and the CDC have released a document entitled, “Hurricane Key Messages for Employers, Workers, and Volunteers,” covering the potential dangers involved in cleanup work and proper safety precautions, with links at the end of each section to additional resources.

Topics covered include, among others:

  • Carbon monoxide;
  • Chainsaw use and tree removal;
  • Chemicals;
  • Electrical hazards;
  • Falls;
  • Fire ants;
  • Heat stress;
  • Mold;
  • Portable generators;
  • Motor vehicles;
  • Fatigue;
  • Working with livestock and poultry; and
  • Wastewater and sludge.

The document also emphasizes the importance of the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Rescue workers and emergency responders can be exposed to a wide variety of hazards during and following hurricane and flooding events.

The routes of exposure include inhalation, skin absorption, and ingestion. Chemical and biological contaminants can be released to the environment from various sources such as industrial and commercial facilities, households, and sewage plants and waste lines.

Response workers can also be exposed to bodily fluids that may contain infectious disease agents during victim recovery and while handling human remains. Flooded buildings often provide an ideal environment to promote mold growth that can cause health effects such as nasal, eye, and skin irritation, as well as respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma attacks.

Debris and unstable surfaces can cause worker injuries by slips, trips, falls, cuts, and abrasions.