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DISASTER RECOVERY

After the storm

Using PPE to help protect cleanup and restoration workers

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Flood PPE

Debris and work environment hazards

Damage from severe storms can cause building surfaces to warp, crack and become unstable. They also may be slippery. NIOSH recommends workers wear safety footwear with slip-resistant soles, as well as cut-resistant gloves and eye protection. In addition, the agency states that workers on unstable surfaces or piles of construction materials or debris should use fall protection equipment with lifelines tied off to ?appropriate anchor points, including bucket trucks, to reduce the risk of falls. Head protection such as ANSI-rated hard hats may be necessary in certain buildings, especially if falling debris or electrical hazards are present.

When working at flooding- or hurricane-damaged sites, NIOSH advises workers to wear multiple layers of gloves to reduce the risk of cuts or scrapes from debris, while also protecting against chemical or other exposures.

According to OSHA, a glove combination appropriate for areas with contaminated floodwater and debris is an inner cut-resistant glove made of nitrile or similar washable materials, with an outer nitrile or latex disposable glove, preferably one with a 4- to 8-millimeter thickness. Workers allergic to latex should use nitrile gloves.

Workers also may need to protect themselves from electrical hazards in a water-damaged building. Safety inspectors should check for flooded electrical circuits and frayed wires before allowing cleaners and restorers in the building, Gromicko recommends. If electrical hazards are present in a structure, workers should wear rubber or rubber-insulated boots, coveralls, and gloves.

Other PPE may be required depending on the jobsite. Noise-producing power generators may be brought in to operate water removal equipment (which also may produce loud noise). NIOSH states that if the environment is so loud that a worker must shout to be heard, hearing protection should be worn. If working in sunlight, goggles or safety glasses with sun- or glare-protective lenses may be needed. Also, if workers will be standing in deep water, they may need hip waders.

Encouraging PPE use and training

Workers should be trained in proper PPE use as well as their company's policies related to safe work practices, Larsen said. For safe and effective PPE programs, intelligence, common sense and pre-inspections are necessary for each project, he said. For instance, if workers will be physically removing debris as well as working with chemicals, they should bring multiple types of gloves.

Workers may be more likely to wear PPE at all times if they wear clothing underneath that is lightweight and form-fitting to increase comfort, according to NIOSH. Wet gloves or other PPE can cause dermal irritation, especially during long exposures, so NIOSH recommends workers use cotton liners under protective gloves.

Safety training should be tailored to workers to highlight the dangers they may face performing their work, Larsen said.

"Training should be given in a spirit of sincere interest in the welfare of the worker," he said. "Insincerity diminishes the workers' realization that the work they are performing brings serious risks to their well-being."

Recovery workers, PPE availability and delivery networks

During and after extreme weather events such as hurricanes, ensuring the correct personal protective equipment is used may not be the only challenge.

"PPE needs to be where it's needed, but you never know where that is until the event happens," said John Madden, president of the National Emergency Management Association and director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for Alaska. Local governments in particular face this challenge, Madden said, because typically they prepare only for the natural disasters likely to occur in their region - relying on delivery networks for PPE designed for a specific event.

However, local organizations must consider that typical networks and modes of transportation used to deliver the necessary PPE may be blocked by water, debris or other hazards during and after a disaster. Local responders faced this situation in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Some could not even rely on their stockpiles - many fire departments in the New York and New Jersey areas were devastated by the wind and flooding, losing a large amount of basic PPE as a result.

In extreme weather situations, emergency response workers may be eager to jump in to assist those in need, with or without wearing PPE. This tendency must be addressed beforehand, Madden cautioned. "There are always circumstances where public responders will put themselves at harm if they can serve the public and take those actions - it's part of the nobility of the profession," he said. Although responders may become frustrated, safety professionals and employers must remind these workers that if they cut corners on PPE to help one person and become injured, they will not be able to help the second, third or fourth person, Madden said.

– TJB

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