Earlier this month, historic floods caused by torrential rains hit Colorado’s Front Range region, resulting in property loss estimated at nearly $2 billion statewide. Even more devastatingly, there is a confirmed death toll of seven people (as of noon, Sept. 20). 140 people are still unaccounted for, and downed electrical wires, damaged roads and bridges, and a lack of clean water access plague the area.
Disaster response workers are exposing themselves to these dangerous conditions in order to save lives and protect structures. Given the historic negligence of safety during post-disaster rescues and cleanups, OSHA is publicizing concern and advocating safety awareness for those currently in Colorado. Consider the long-term effects of carcinogens on 9/11 cleanup crews, the inadequate training of disaster response workers sent to the Exxon oil spill, and the exposure of Hurricane Sandy responders to asbestos and other toxic chemicals in the floodwater. In light of this pattern, OSHA is urging workers to take the proper precautions for facing the flood-related hazards.
According to Bloomberg BNA, OSHA says these precautions should include “evaluating the work area for all hazards, monitoring task-specific hazard exposure, employing engineering or work-practice controls to mitigate hazards, using personal protective equipment, exercising caution and assuming all electrical lines are live.”
OSHA is not the only agency encouraging precautions. The Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are both advising people to stay out of the floodwater, as it could be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or chemical and industrial waste. If contact is unavoidable, they should wear the proper protective clothing.
OSHA’s protective tips for flood disaster response workers:
- Make sure your tetanus shot is current (within 10 years) prior to beginning cleanup work
- Wash your hands during work breaks, meal breaks, and after your shift using bottled water, water that has been boiled for at least 10 minutes, or chemically disinfected water
- Wear chemical-resistant clothing, including gloves and boots, as well as protective goggles
- If bitten by an animal, seek immediate medical care
- Do not enter flooded areas to touch electrical equipment
- To prevent injury, use proper lifting techniques and teams of 2+ people to move heavy items
- Discard all food that comes in contact with flood waters
- Use the buddy system; do not work alone!
- Wear a Coast-Guard approved personal flotation device
- Take frequent, short breaks somewhere warm and dry to avoid hypothermia
- Work during the warmest part of the day
- Do not try to cross flooded roadways in vehicles if you are unsure of the water’s depth