Many Dangers Involved When Cleaning Up After Natural Disasters

Experiencing a natural disaster such as a flood, tornado, or mudslide can be extremely dangerous. But the dangers isn’t over once the immediate threat has passed.

While people are injured or killed during the event itself, even more┬ápeople are in harm’s way during the cleanup and recovery process.

Warning to Rescue Workers

The threat of injury or death is so high in post-disaster areas that the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued a warning to rescue personnel flocking to areas of Missouri and Kansas in the wake of deadly tornadoes there earlier this month.

The federal agency warned emergency personnel working in tornado-struck areas of Oak Grove, Smithville, Carrollton and Mercer counties in Missouri and in Olathe, Kansas, to be aware of the hazards they are likely to face.

Hundreds of homes, businesses, and other property were damaged when a series of deadly tornadoes ripped through mid-Missouri and Kansas on March 6. Fortunately, there were no reported fatalities.

Beware of Hazards

Rescue workers, employers, and the public need to be especially careful during cleanup and recovery efforts, according to Karena Lorek, the area director for OSHA’s Kansas City office.

“Recovery work should not put you in the recovery room,” Lorek said in a news release issued after the storms. “Our main concern is the safety and health of the workers and volunteers conducting cleanup activities. Everyone should use personal protective equipment (PPE) and implement safe work practices to protect themselves from hazards such as electrocution, struck-by, caught in and other hazards.”

Protective Measures Required

Specifically, people working in disaster areas should be constantly vigilant of hazards by taking these precautions:

  • Evaluate work areas for all hazards
  • Monitor task-specific hazard exposure
  • Use engineering or work practice controls to mitigate hazards
  • Have and use PPE
  • Assume all power lines are live
  • Follow proper hygiene procedures
  • Use portable generators, saws, ladders, vehicles and other equipment correctly and safely
  • Create traffic work zones

“By utilizing protective measures employees and volunteers provide valuable assistance to those in need and return home safe and healthy to their families at the end of the day,” Lorek said.

OSHA maintains a disaster response website that includes information about how to keep people safe in the wake of deadly storms and other natural disasters. The bilingual website contains fact sheets, concise “quick cards”, answers to frequently asked questions, and safety and health guides. There also are links to other sources.