Article

Post-flood: Health and safety issues

Technical Advisory Bulletin

October 1, 2016
| United States

When flooding associated with storms or hurricanes occurs, it is important to keep in mind safety precautions for employees entering flood areas, or maintaining idle and/or partially operating facilities. The following is offered as guidance in mitigating potential injuries associated with post-flooding conditions.

Safety first

During and immediately after active flooding, employees need to stay in a safe location and await word from official/local authorities that it is safe to re-enter the work area. Contact a doctor, medical specialist or consult government guidelines to determine what vaccines or health precautions are appropriate for the region or conditions. Never attempt to drive a vehicle through flood water, no matter how shallow it appears and no matter how well you know the road. Such attempts are a leading cause of flood-related injury and death. Do not bypass road barricades or drive on roadways that show evidence of damage or roadside erosion.

Health officials note the potential hazards of flood waters. Every effort should be made to limit contact with flood water because of the potential for elevated levels of contamination from raw sewage and other hazardous substances. Practicing basic hygiene during the emergency period is crucial. Always wash hands with soap and use water that has been boiled or disinfected, or use hand sanitizing products. If you have any open cuts or sores that will be exposed to flood water, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap after every contact with the flood water. If a wound develops redness, swelling or oozing, seek immediate medical attention. Everyone involved in the cleanup should have current tetanus shots. Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent, and wash them separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.

Individuals involved in the cleanup should wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves, eye protection, N-95 respirators and rubber boots. Other protective clothing or equipment should be worn as needed depending on the cleanup task.

Re-entering buildings and structures

Before entering any flood-damaged structure, a qualified individual should determine that it is safe to enter. Qualified professionals should determine the need to and the safest means of turning on the electric, gas and water utilities in the building. They must ensure that the utilities pose no threat before employees enter the building to begin cleanup. Cleanup teams should be aware that during power outages a sudden restoration of power could create electrical hazards in the building. Never power up equipment that was exposed to water until it has been inspected by a qualified professional.

Do not allow smoking or other ignition sources in the building. Use flashlights. Never use fueled camping lanterns for light. If a gas leak is suspected, leave the building, get to a safe distance away and contact the gas company.

Generators and gasoline-powered portable lighting

Exhaust from generators and gasoline-powered portable lights can be toxic. Always set up generators/lighting outside, well away from doors, windows and vents. Never use this equipment inside buildings, homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds or other enclosed areas. Any fuelburning device, such as a pressure washer, can produce carbon monoxide and should not be used indoors. Carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly. It can build up quickly and linger for hours. Also, it is important to store fuel away from fuel-fired equipment or any ignition sources. Never refuel generators while hot. When using a generator to provide temporary electrical power, use only properly rated heavy duty electrical extension cords protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter, and be sure not to run extension cords through water or potential areas where water can collect, nor where they can be exposed to mechanical damage.

Hazardous chemical safety

Disinfectants, sanitizers and other cleaning solutions can be toxic and potentially hazardous. Always wear appropriate personal protective equipment and follow the recommendations on the product’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Mixing certain types of cleaners and disinfectants can produce toxic fumes and result in injury, or even death. Do not mix them or use them in combination. Read and follow all label instructions carefully. Where necessary provide fresh air by opening windows and doors and limit time that employees remain inside of a building with cleaning chemicals. Provide a safe means for disposal of chemicals.

Other safety considerations

Standing water is a breeding ground for a wide range of microorganisms and insects, including mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can spread such diseases as West Nile virus and encephalitis. Microorganisms, including bacteria and mold, can become airborne and be inhaled. Where floodwater stands for an extended length of time, contamination with infectious agents is a concern. Remove standing water as quickly as possible and limit exposure to areas with static contaminated water. If mosquitoes are present, use personal protective clothing and insect repellant.

Bacteria and mold development is a concern for workers with breathing ailments or allergies. Provide approved protective masks and clothing. Monitor employee health issues continuously.

Cleanup work will involve varying degrees of physical effort. Some employees might not be suited for heavy manual tasks. Exercise judgment when assigning tasks to employees to help avoid injuries. Country and local codes and safety practices and programs must be followed during all aspects of this process. Short-cuts should not be allowed to expedite the cleanup process. Only trained employees should operate equipment such as fork-lifts and power tools. Follow all rules associated with confined spaces. Safety is your top priority.

This Bulletin is designed to keep our clients abreast of loss mitigation techniques that could be beneficial when property perils affect their operations or facilities. Additional information about this and other topics can be obtained from your Regional RiskEngineering Consultant.

The observations, comments and suggestions we have made in this publication are advisory and are not intended nor should they be taken as legal advice. Please contact your own legal adviser for an analysis of your specific facts and circumstances.

Additional resources


Contacts

  • Joe Stavish, PE
    National Technical Director Property Risk Control
    Risk Control and Claim Advocacy Practice
  • Brad Barraclough, ARM, ALCM
    Senior Risk Control Consultant, Casualty
    Risk Control and Claim Advocacy Practice