Safety and Environmental specialist Michael Courouleau warns of the biological, physical, and anatomical dangers associated with the post-catastrophe clearing of industrial sites.
There are several Industrial Hygiene concerns after a hurricane, says Michael Courouleau. Here, he offers advice on a number of dangerous issues and includes methods to reduce clean-up crew injuries.
Existing food and water must be treated as contaminated, thus clean-up teams will require safe bottled water and pre-packaged food, insists Michael Courouleau. The food that may be contaminated must be removed and labeled as such.
Aquatic and Animal Hazards
Michael Courouleau cautions that remaining floodwaters have the potential to cause drowning, slips, and vehicle incidents. All roadway hazards should be followed when covered with water and barricaded. Do not drive through flooded areas. If working in or near standing water, Michael Courouleau recommends the utilization of a life jacket as a floatation device. Remind your team about slippery surfaces from water and algae buildup in places that it may not usually be in the facility.
Michael Courouleau also cautions that standing water acts as a breeding ground for insects. If possible and if the water is not contaminated, pump out standing water into drainage system. Mosquitoes, dead animals, and other disease-bearing insects can pose a biological hazard and cause infections from microorganisms, toxins, and allergens. Some mosquitoes and other biting insects can cause serious or short-term illness depending upon a person’s tolerance and allergic reaction, says Michael Courouleau.
There also may be wild or stray domestic animals wandering around. Michael Courouleau warns that these can attack and should be avoided. He also notes that bites and scratches can cause bleeding, damaged limbs, lacerations, and poisonous venom injection. These bites can lead to death from loss of blood, rabies, or venom poisoning.
According to Michael Courouleau, hand sanitation should be heavily considered. There may be more potential for contaminated hands due to the destruction and unsanitary areas. Hand washing should be routine, using soap and warm water. In cases where this is unavailable, Michael Courouleau suggests that supplemental alcohol based products can be used.
Other potential hazards can include entrapment from collapsed damaged buildings or structures, advises Michael Courouleau. These buildings should be avoided until examined by a structural engineer and building inspector. Signs or barricade tape maybe used to warn others that the structure is unstable and they should not enter, reports Michael Courouleau. If the building or structure must be entered and unusual noises signal the structure is about to fall, Michael Courouleau says that the building should be evacuated immediately.
Electrical and fire hazards may exist due to fallen power lines or other electrical equipment damage. All personnel should treat everything as if were hot and energized and avoid any downed power lines or transformers. Michael Courouleau also points out that fires can arise by the presence of flammable substances with downed power lines as a source of ignition. If a fallen power line is the source, it should be isolated following lock-out tag out procedures. If they are not capable of energy isolation of the hazard they should communicate with the team and the energy company should be notified and have them de-energize and repaired to restore power. This should be communicated to the entire team.
The team should avoid any overhead power lines and inspect the poles, transformers, and other attachments for damage. All electrical equipment or panels that may be damp or water damaged should be isolated from the energy source. According to Michael Courouleau, this could be the main breaker, fuse panel, or service panel. The equipment, panel, and energy isolation points should be locked and tagged-out, warning of potential electrocution hazard from water damage.
The electricity should not be restored until repaired and inspected by a qualified electrician, says Michael Courouleau. Candles should not be introduced to the environments because of the hazard of flammable substances. Battery operated devices are considered a safe alternative.
Heat stress is another factor that can be encountered during reentry, cites Michael Courouleau. Physical exhaustion and strain can be present due to heat stress from clean-up tasks and the emotional importance of reentry. Worker pace should be managed properly since there is usually a tremendous sense of urgency to return and get the facility up and operational as soon as possible. Workers should break frequently in cool shaded areas if available, drink ample amounts of water, and avoid alcoholic beverages as Michael Courouleau explains that these dehydrate the body. The team should wear light weight/light colored and fire resistant clothing. And, if possible, Michael Courouleau suggests doing any clean up or other physically exhaustive activities during cooler hours to avoid heat stress related injuries.
Usually clean-up crews will be lifting and moving objects. The potential for muscular skeletal injuries will be present. To avoid them, Michael Courouleau recommends coaching teams on lifting procedures, pre lifting or activity stretching, and reminding them not to lift over 50 pounds per person. If any wounds, scraps, or skin abrasions occurs, treat the wound by cleaning with soap and water, applying antibiotic ointment, and seek further medical attention if needed. Untreated wounds can worsen if not treated immediately causing severe to fatal infections. Again everyone entering the site should be up to date on their tetanus and Hep A shots.