Note: This is a very complex topic well beyond the scope of this book. The Best Practices listed will be about dealing with debris and damaged buildings. There will not be any recommendations to correct the problems related to such cleanups as massive oil spills, hazardous chemicals, severe biological hazards, radiological hazards, etc. The reader should contact the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for guidance on how to correct these situations. There is a considerable body of information available from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and OSHA.

There are significant potential health, environmental health, and safety challenges to personnel as well as the general public in the cleanup and repair of homes and businesses. There may be immediate hazards such as fires, leaking gas lines, downed electrical wires, carbon monoxide, other respiratory hazards, extreme heat or cold and high humidity, sharp objects, stored hazardous chemicals, microorganisms from sewage and contaminated objects, unstable structures, a vast variety of potential air pollutants, etc. The structures may be infested with insects, rodents, or snakes. Workers may suffer from being in confined spaces which can have a buildup of dangerous gases or be oxygen deficient, extreme fatigue, musculoskeletal injuries from lifting heavy materials, and potential chronic diseases from asbestos, lead, and other hazardous substances which may cause cancer. (See endnotes 43, 44.)

Best Practices for the Health and Safety of Personnel Involved in Emergency/Disaster Cleanups

and Repairs

  • • Utilize experts in structural safety to determine the structural damage which has been done to various buildings and whether it is safe to enter to make further determinations concerning the structure and contents.
  • • After damaged buildings have been cleared for entry, enter them with great care, and determine potentially serious conditions visually and by use of testing equipment to identify all hazards including the levels of risk. Determine appropriate controls and the types of workers needed to carry out the assignments. Always use the buddy system.
  • • Establish a comprehensive plan to carry out in a safe manner the necessary removal of damaged materials or portions of the structure, cleanup, and necessary repairs. Take into account any potential additional damage and new risk created by this work.
  • • Determine if all workers working on the site are qualified to carry out their duties, using appropriate personal protective equipment, and being properly supervised by very knowledgeable and experienced people.
  • • When working at any heights, use appropriate handrails and security belts.
  • • Determine if there are possible combustible or explosive gases present and leave the building immediately if they are suspected.
  • • Open all windows and doors in the building to air it out and do not smoke, light matches, operate electrical switches, cell phones or other phones, or do anything that could create a spark.
  • • Do not use any fuel-burning devices within the property to avoid the potential of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • • Use considerable caution in the vicinity of downed electrical power lines and only allow highly trained personnel to deal with the problem.
  • • Have knowledge of all overhead or underground electrical power lines to avoid striking them or disrupting them during cleanup.
  • • Avoid injuries by using power lifting of heavy objects instead of hand lifting.
  • • Allow for frequent breaks and ample fluids for workers to avoid dehydration, reduce potential for fatigue, and other physical symptoms of stress.
  • • Make note of the problem areas and use defensive tactics to avoid injury to the personnel.
  • • Keep all children and pets away from damaged buildings.
  • • Determine if there are leaking or spilled chemicals and use appropriate clean-up techniques and personal protective equipment.
  • • Dispose of chemicals in an appropriate manner at a hazardous waste site.
  • • Do not burn any household chemicals or dump them into the drains, storm sewers, or toilets.
  • • Use appropriate personal protective equipment when dealing with insulation, fireproofing material, floor tiles, roofing material, and other substances which may contain asbestos as well as other types of fibers.
  • • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment while removing standing water as quickly as possible to reduce the potential for microbiological problems.
  • • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment while removing all building contents composed of paper, cloth, wood, and other absorbent or porous material that can contribute to the growth of mold.
  • • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment when cleaning and sanitizing the interior or exterior of contaminated equipment and structures.
  • • Wash all surfaces and equipment inside or outside the structure with detergents and warm water, rinse thoroughly, and then disinfect with household bleach using appropriate quantities to destroy potential for growth of mold and disease-producing organisms. Allow the surfaces to air dry.
  • • Utilize appropriate respiratory equipment when exposed to water vapors formed from contaminated water within the structure.
  • • Never mix household cleaners or disinfectants because of the possibility of producing toxic fumes.
  • • Determine if all electric fans used to help dry out a structure are properly grounded and connected to a grounded electrical source.
  • • Use appropriate respiratory equipment where there is a potential for airborne asbestos dust and lead dust.
  • • Use only specially trained and licensed individuals who are properly equipped with personal protective equipment to remove asbestos or lead-based paint and who will dispose of them in an appropriate and safe manner.
  • • Frequently wash hands to avoid contaminating areas which are clean and functioning.
  • • Temporarily move all the people to safe sanitary facilities until renovation can be accomplished.
  • • Do not permit any open burning of materials from the structures.
  • • When demolishing the structure, follow the appropriate federal regulations and/or Best Practices identified for asbestos demolition, lead-based paints, removal and disposal of electrical equipment containing PCBs, other hazardous chemicals, and storage tanks. (See topic areas above.)
  • • Always use wet demolition procedures to reduce airborne dust.
  • • Workers should always wash their hands and arms frequently especially if they are using toilet facilities and before eating or drinking fluids.
  • • Keep, evaluate, and use when necessary appropriate fire extinguishers on-site.
  • • Preferably use bottled water from authorized sources for drinking water purposes.
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