Storms and heavy rains can produce significant flooding in some areas. These conditions can pose several unique hazards for injury and disease. This Tailgate Topic is intended to help you recognize and avoid these potential dangers to protect your health and safety.
Floodwaters can carry infectious materials that may be harmful if proper precautions are not taken. Some of the infectious organisms include E. coli, salmonella, shigella, hepatitis A, typhoid and tetanus. The primary route of infection is through open cuts or punctures that have come into contact with contaminated water or mud. The signs and symptoms experienced by the victims of waterborne microorganisms are similar, even though they may be caused by different pathogens. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, muscle aches and fever. Other contaminates found in floodwater include sewage, toxic waste and dislodgement of chemicals previously stored above ground. Proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – which includes rain gear, safety glasses, rubber boots and water-resistant gloves – is an effective way to minimize exposure to infectious and chemical materials.
PPE use, combined with the use of good hygienic practices (washing hands prior to eating, drinking or smoking), significantly reduces the chance of infection. First aid, even for minor cuts and burns, is important after exposure to water potentially contaminated with infectious waste. Open wounds and cuts must be washed with soap and clean water or personal hand cleansers as soon as possible. Cuts – other than minor scratches – that have contacted floodwaters will warrant medical evaluation and may require treatment to prevent tetanus. Contact your supervisor to make arrangements to visit your local occupational health services clinic for an evaluation. If a wound develops redness, swelling or draining, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Active mold growth is slimy or fuzzy and usually white, green, black, orange or purple in color. Mold spores are spread easily by air currents, pets and people. Exposure to mold may cause cold-like symptoms, watery eyes, sore throat, wheezing and dizziness, and it may also trigger asthma attacks. If you handle moldy materials or work in a mold-contaminated environment, you may need a dust mask. Contact your local safety professional for assistance.
When entry into confined or enclosed spaces must be performed, follow established procedures including the use of air monitoring equipment to identify oxygen-deficient areas, carbon monoxide, combustible gas and hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Bad air may also be a concern in areas where it would not normally be anticipated, such as in basements. Contact the job supervisor if your meter alarms, indicating a potentially hazardous environment. Consider using fans to ventilate areas with high levels of air contaminants or oxygen deficiency.
Pools of standing or stagnant water become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, increasing the risk of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. The presence of wild animals in populated areas increases the risk of disease caused by animal bites, such as rabies, as well as diseases carried by fleas and ticks.
Long work hours combined with physical exhaustion can create highly stressful situations for employees working in flood-damaged areas. Long hours, fatigue and stress can increase the risks of injury and illness. Set priorities for work tasks and pace the work accordingly. Take rest breaks before exhaustion builds up. Get as much rest as possible during off hours. Be alert to the emotional exhaustion and strain of employees and the public around you.
Tips to Remember
•Before working in a flooded area, be sure your tetanus shot is current (given within the last 10 years). Wounds associated with floods should be evaluated for risk. A physician may recommend tetanus immunization.
•Use good hygiene practices and wash your hand prior to eating, drinking or smoking.
•Be on guard for mold. Use appropriate respiratory protection if handling material with mold growth.
•Be alert for chemically-contaminated floodwater at industrial sites.
•Use extreme caution with potential chemical and electrical hazards. Floods have the strength to move or bury hazardous waste and chemical containers far from their normal storage places, creating a risk for those who come into contact with them. Any chemical hazard, such as a propane tank, should be handled by the fire or police department.
•Seek medical attention if you are nauseous or vomiting, or if you are exhibiting symptoms of a waterborne infection. Immediately seek first aid for any open wound that has been exposed to floodwaters or if an animal bite occurs.
•Use good hygiene practices with any PPE or other personal equipment that has been exposed to floodwaters. Routine cleaning will help prevent cross contamination.