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Worker Safety After a Flood

Storm and flood cleanup activities can be hazardous. Workers and volunteers involved with flood cleanup should be aware of the potential dangers involved, and the proper safety precautions. Work-related hazards that could be encountered include: electrical hazards, Carbon Monoxide, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, motor vehicles, hazardous materials, fire, confined spaces and falls. Links to information about hazards associated with storm and flood cleanup can be found below. This information is intended to help employers and workers prepare in advance for anticipated response activities, and to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses in the field once rescue, recovery, and clean-up begin.The danger of a flood does not end when the rains cease. Cleanup crews must work together and look out for one another to ensure safety.

For most work in flooded areas, workers will need hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank).

Exposure to flood waters does not increase the risk of tetanus, and tetanus immunization campaigns are not needed. While documentation of vaccination is preferred, it should not be a pre-requisite for work. During flood cleanup, the risk of wounds may be increased. For this reason, cleanup workers should be sure that they are up-to-date with tetanus vaccination, ideally before starting cleanup activities. Adults need a tetanus booster shot every 10 years. Td or Tdap can be used; getting the Tdap instead of Td for one tetanus booster during adulthood is recommended to maintain protection against pertussis. Being up-to-date for tetanus vaccine can greatly simplify the treatment for any wound that might occur.

First aid, even for minor cuts and burns, is very important during flood cleanup. Immediately clean all wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Talk to a doctor or other health professional on the scene to find out if you need more treatment.

Excessive noise from equipment such as chain saws, backhoes, tractors, pavement breakers, blowers, and dryers may cause ringing in the ears and subsequent hearing damage. If you must shout over noise to be heard, you should wear earplugs or other hearing protection devices.

CDC/NIOSH is the federal agency which evaluates and makes recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.

  • Evaluate workplace problems from a broad public health perspective utilizing physician epidemiologists, industrial hygienists, industrial psychologists, and engineers
  • Brief workers concerning the health and exposure risks of concern following the hurricane, including flood waters and sediment, debris, mold, odors, heat stress, work stress, infectious disease, risks of handling human and animal remains, etc.
  • Evaluate illness, injury and workplace stress through confidential questionnaires, record reviews, employee interviews, measurement of exposures, and medical testing, if needed.
  • Measure heat stress, noise, and air contaminants such as dust, metals, silica, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and other indoor pollutants.
  • Provide guidance on controlling exposures, including engineering controls, administrative controls, and use of appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Provide a final written report through CDC to the employees and employees.
  • Employees, authorized representatives of employees, or employers can request an evaluation of possible health hazards associated with a job or workplace. Requests for HHEs must be in writing to NIOSH and must specify those work areas and potential hazards which need to be evaluated.