ST. PAUL, Minn. — Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Ida – these are just a few of the hurricanes in the last 30 years that have caused widespread damage. The wind, the water, the destruction, the displacement. It is one thing to survive a major weather event, it is quite another to then begin the process of cleaning up the devastation. Where do you start? You protected yourself from the storm, now how do you protect yourself from the aftermath, including mold, exposed materials such as asbestos, and other factors such as noise from machinery that may be used to help with the clean-up efforts? Let’s explore this important issue.
What Types of Hazards are Present After a Flood or a Hurricane?
Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are a number of potential hazards present after a hurricane? These can include:
• Contaminated food and water
• Electrical hazards from damaged power lines and electrical equipment
• Unstable buildings
• Wild or stray animals
• Carbon monoxide from camp stoves and generators
• Mosquitoes and other insects
• Hazardous chemicals
• Mold growth
Effects to workers may also include physical and emotional strain; musculoskeletal injuries from moving objects; heat stress and dehydration; and infection due to open wounds and cuts. Having the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect you during clean-up can go a long way towards helping prevent injury.*
For further information, please see the CDC web site.
What Type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Should I Wear for Mold Cleanup?
One big concern after a hurricane is the presence of mold. All of that moisture breeds mold and it is important to contact a professional mold remediator to evaluate your situation and take appropriate action. For guidance on this issue please refer to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Respirators will often need to be selected based on the activity and the size of the area to be remediated from mold contamination. The EPA-recommended type of respirator (e.g. half mask vs. full facepiece) and filter (e.g. 95 vs. 100) depends on the size of the area to be remediated. To reduce exposure to non-harmful odors produced by mold, a particulate filter with nuisance level organic vapor relief, or an organic vapor cartridge in addition to a particle filter may be used.
Gases and vapors associated with disinfectant should be evaluated and may warrant the use of an appropriate chemical cartridge in conjunction with the particulate filter.
Particulate respirators, gloves, goggles, disposable coveralls, full-body clothing, head gear, and foot coverings may help reduce exposure to mold spores. Appropriate PPE should be worn when cleaning up hurricane damage for all hazards, not just when there is mold present.
What Type of Respirator Should I Wear to Help Reduce Exposure to Asbestos or Lead During Demolition and Cleanup?
For potential exposures to asbestos or lead, contact a professional asbestos or lead remediator to evaluate your situation and take appropriate action. For guidance on this issue please refer to the Environmental Protection Agency.
What Type of PPE Should I Use if Exposed to Hazardous Chemicals?
Professionals trained in the cleanup and disposal of hazardous materials should be contacted. Call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 or the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378. Skin and respiratory protection should be chosen based on the nature of the hazard.
Between September and December 2005, OSHA collected a variety of exposure data, including noise levels, on response and recovery workers in Gulf Coast regions impacted by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Do you know what they found?
Twenty percent of the 324 employees evaluated had noise exposure levels above the 90 dBA 8-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL). Over 40 percent of the monitored employees were exposed to noise levels at or above 85decibels (dBA) 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Hazardous levels of noise were most common among workers involved in debris collection, debris reduction, site clearing, and transportation restoration activities. Some of the highest exposures (above 90 dBA) were associated with workers operating heavy equipment, chippers, chain saws, and industrial vacuums.
3M has created the Center for Hearing Conservation to provide additional information, guidance, and tools to help you to protect yourself and other workers in hazardous noise conditions.
Head, Eye, and Face Protection
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified potential eye, head and face hazards during emergency response and disaster recovery to include impact and airborne dusts from concrete and metal particles; falling or shifting clean-up debris, building materials, and glass; smoke and noxious or poisonous gases; chemicals (e.g. acids, bases, fuels, solvents, lime, and wet or dry cement powder); cutting or welding light and electrical arcing; thermal hazards and fires and; bloodborne pathogens from (hepatitis or HIV) blood, body fluids, and human remains.
Common injuries include corneal abrasions and conjunctivitis, concrete or metal particles or slivers embedded in the eye, chemical splashes or burns, welder’s flash, lacerations, facial contusions, and/or a black eye.
Storms and flood damage can create a staggering amount of hazards and risks for head injuries in both indoor and outdoor environments. Head protection is necessary in any situation where:
- There is a risk of being struck by falling objects
- A person may strike their head against a fixed or protruding object
- Accidental head contact with an electrical hazard exists
- If required to do so by an employer or other authority in control of the job site
Selection of an appropriate safety helmet is dependent on the task performed. Look for a safety helmet that meets necessary impact and electrical insulation requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z89.1-2014. This standard describes the minimum physical and performance requirements for protective helmets. These requirements are classified by impact type and electrical class.
The safety helmet consists of two main components: the outer shell, and the suspension. The outer shell is a rigid material generally made from high-density polyethylene, which offers a barrier against impact. The suspension is an integral part of the safety helmet. It is designed to act as an energy-absorbing mechanism during an impact incident. In combination, the safety helmet is designed to provide limited protection against impact, falling objects, or electric shock.
Eye and Face Protection
Prevent Blindness America reports that more than 700,000 workers suffer eye injuries at work each year in the United States, yet 90% of them could have been prevented by using proper protective eyewear. Common eye hazards to protect from include:
- Impact hazards from flying objects such as large chips, fragments, particles, sand, and dirt.
- Heat hazards from hot sparks, molten metal, or high-temperature exposures.
- Chemical splash, droplets, fumes, vapors, and irritating mists.
- Nuisance or fine dust.
- Optical radiation from radiant energy, glare, and intense light.
Additional considerations for eye protection selection include:
- Lens tint and color.
- Anti-scratch or anti-fog coatings.
- Unobstructed or assisted viewing.
- Comfort and security.
- Coverage and gaps.
- Compatibility with other PPE.
- The need for secondary protection such as a face or welding shield.
ANSI Z87.1 standard provides minimum requirements for eye protectors including selection, use, and maintenance of these protectors as devices to minimize or prevent eye and face injuries. The protectors include spectacles (safety glasses), goggles, face shields, welding helmets, and respirators. ANSI Z87.1-2015 “Z87” marked non-prescription eye and face protectors must meet the general requirements, which include optical, physical, markings, and other requirements. Replaceable and aftermarket components have additional conditions that must be satisfied.
Safety spectacles, hybrid safety spectacles, and hybrid goggles are the minimum protection required. Goggles typically offer better protection by reducing eye exposure and additional hazard protection. Used with spectacles and goggles, secondary protectors may provide a barrier for the face or protection for your specific application.
Unlike other PPE that is worn in the presence of a hazard, head, eye, and face protectors are worn as a preventative measure to a potential hazard and should be worn in designated areas.
Where Can Respirators and Other PPE Be Purchased for Hurricane Cleanup?
Don’t get hurt after the storm is over. Protect yourself and help ensure a smoother cleanup process.
Respirators, safety glasses, and other safety equipment can be purchased through industrial safety distributors or commercial distributors where other general equipment can be found. Many retail stores such as paint stores, mass merchants and large home center retailers sell safety equipment. For more information to help you be prepared for clean-up before a storm hits or for help selecting the right safety equipment for your situation after a storm, please contact one of our health and safety specialists at 1-800-243-4630.
*These PPE products are suggested, not recommended. Please select PPE that is appropriate given your situation and ensure you follow all User Instructions.
Publishers Note: This post has been updated since it was first published to add links and information.