As residents recover from the damage caused by the recent storms that have occurred throughout the South, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration urges workers and members of the public engaged in cleanup activities to be aware of the hazards they can encounter and the necessary steps they should take to protect themselves.
"Emergency response should not put you in the hospital emergency room," said Cindy Coe, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta. "Storm recovery work encompasses a wide range of safety and health hazards, which can be minimized by knowledge, safe work practices and personal protective equipment."
Cleanup work can involve restoring electricity, communications, water and sewer services; demolition work; removal of floodwater from structures; entry into flooded areas; cleaning up debris; tree-trimming; structural repair; roadway and bridge repair; use of cranes, aerial lifts and other heavy equipment; hazardous waste operations and emergency response activities; and repair of dams and levees.
Inherent hazards may include illness from exposure to contaminated water or food; exposure or heat stress; downed electrical wires; carbon monoxide and electrical hazards from portable generators; fall and struck-by hazards from tree-trimming or working at heights; being caught in unprotected excavations or confined spaces; burns; lacerations; musculoskeletal injuries; being struck by traffic or heavy equipment; and drowning from being caught in moving water or while removing water from flooded structures.
Protective measures should involve evaluating the work area for all hazards; task-specific hazard exposure monitoring; utilizing engineering or work practice controls to mitigate hazards; using personal protective equipment; assuming all power lines are live; following proper hygiene procedures; using portable generators, saws, ladders, vehicles and other equipment correctly; and utilizing traffic work zones.