The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warned employers to protect workers from the safety and health hazards that often follow hurricanes, including the biological and chemical hazards of contaminated floodwaters, damaged power lines, debris and downed trees, and carbon monoxide fumes from gasoline-powered generators.
Hurricane Delta, which recently made landfall in Louisiana, was the 25th named storm of an active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Nearly 7 weeks remain in the Atlantic hurricane season, which typically begins June 1 and ends November 30. The Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 to November 30.
According to OSHA, employers should put several protective measures in place after a weather disaster, which include:
- Evaluating work areas for hazards;
- Assessing the stability of structures and walking surfaces;
- Providing fall protection for employees working on elevated surfaces;
- Assuming all power lines are live;
- Keeping portable generators outside;
- Properly operating chain saws, ladders, and other equipment; and
- Providing employees personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and head, hearing, foot, and eye protection.
“Implementing safe work practices, using appropriate personal protective equipment and ensuring workers are properly trained can help minimize the risk of injuries and fatalities during storm cleanup operations,” OSHA’s Atlanta, Georgia, Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer said in a statement.
“Workers involved in storm cleanup can face a wide range of safety and health hazards,” noted Petermeyer.
Workers should be instructed to keep a safe distance from damaged or downed power lines, and only trained electrical utility workers should perform repairs on damaged or downed power lines.
Recovery and cleanup workers should be provided with respiratory protection despite current respirator shortages. Workers must be medically evaluated and fit tested for respirator use and trained in respiratory protection before donning respirators.
Workers cleaning or removing water-damaged items and surfaces also will need other PPE in addition to respirators, including protective clothing, nonporous gloves, protective eyewear, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and waterproof boots.
Excess moisture and standing water following natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes can promote the growth of mold inside buildings. People with allergies, asthma, or other breathing conditions may be especially sensitive to mold.
Wet items and surfaces should be cleaned with detergent and water to prevent the development of mold.
Certain porous, noncleanable items can remain a source of mold growth and should be removed; these include carpeting and carpet padding, ceiling and floor tiles, drywall, insulation, upholstery, and wallpaper.
The hazards of hurricanes are complicated by the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a “COVID-19 Pandemic Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season” before hurricane season began. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also issued guidance, “Hurricane Key Messages: COVID-19 Annex Preparing for Hurricanes During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The CDC has recommended that anyone evacuating to public shelters bring at least two cloth face coverings and, if possible, hand sanitizer.