By now, people are facing the unpleasant — andsometimes disheartening — task of cleaning up after HurricaneMatthew and the lingering flooding.


Related: Safety not a priority in the workplace


While cleaning up their homes, many are also tasked with helpingto clean up their workplaces, leading to safety concerns foremployers and employees.


Response and recovery workers in hurricane-affected areasencounter hazards ranging from contact with live electricalequipment to animal bites, as well as exposure to hazardoussubstances or infectious materials, notes the Occupational Safety and HealthAdministration.


Related: 4 ways HR managers can minimize natural disasterrisks


Employers and employees should take preventive measures toensure safety during recovery and clean up, advisesthe Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’Compensation.


Here are some tips to ensure that your employees stay safe while assisting withgetting the workplace back in shape:


man with boat Hurricane Matthew


Derrick Campbell helps load equipment that he and otheremployees carried out on a boat from Wicked Skinsations infloodwaters caused by rain from Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton,N.C., Oct. 12, 2016. (Photo: AP/Mike Spencer)


1. Evaluate the worksite

  • Inspect the worksite before allowing employees to enter.Evaluate building structures, roadways, surfaces, trenches andexcavations for damage, stability and safety.

  • Have a plan for contacting emergency personnel in the event ofan emergency while you’re inspecting the property.

  • Maintain evacuation routes in case an evacuation becomesnecessary.

  • Report hazards such as downed power lines, frayed electricalwires, gas leaks or snakes to the appropriate authorities.

  • Limit access or set up controlled access zones until astructure’s stability and structural integrity are known.

  • Conduct all necessary activities from outside damaged structuresto the extent feasible.

  • Install temporary structural support, such as shoring orbracing, adequate to protect workers.

  • Assume that electrical lines are live until provenotherwise.

  • Don’t approach any gas leaks. If a gas leak is detected, securespark-producing devices and tools, and evacuate the area until theleak is secured.

  • Consider the potential for asbestos-containing materials inbuildings constructed before 1980, and plan for appropriateremediation measures.

Lineman removing trees from power lines Hurricane Matthew


A worker removes a fallen tree from a power line as crew tryto restore power lost in areas affected by Hurricane Matthew, Oct.8, 2016, in Flagler Beach, Fla. (Photo: AP/Eric Gay)


2. Check for exposure to hazards

  • Monitor the clean-up site for hazards, especially when requiredby a specific OSHA standard, for example, for lead, asbestos,benzene and noise.

  • Mitigate any hazards, first by eliminating the hazard from thework area, for example, repairing or removing down power lines.

  • Use engineering controls as appropriate, by providingventilation to a permit-required confined space, using heavyequipment with temperature-controlled cabs and placing barriersaround the swing radius of an excavator or backhoe, forexample.

  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment, such as snakegaiters and boots to protect from snake bites, and respirators toavoid breathing air that may be contaminated with infectious wasteor mold, as well as hard hats, safety glasses and work gloves.

  • Warn employees to be on the lookout for dead animals, especiallyrodents, that may carry disease or be infected.

  • Remove nonessential personnel from the area during high-hazardoperations.

  • Decontaminate personnel and equipment after contact withcontaminated floodwater or chemicals.


Restaurant owner assessing damage Hurricane Matthew


Crab Shack restaurant owner Jack Flanagan walks through thedining area of his business near Tybee Island, Ga., after winds andstorm surge from Hurricane Matthew hit the small community alongthe east coast of Georgia, Oct. 8, 2016. (Photo: AP/Stephen B.Morton)


3. Follow good work practices

  • Plan for frequent rest breaks, especially when workers arelifting heavy, water-laden objects.

  • Provide first-aid kits to care for minor cuts and abrasions.Remind employees to wash and sanitize cuts and scrapes promptly,bandage or cover cuts and scrapes, and keep them from coming incontact with polluted or contaminated floodwater.

  • Inform employees in areas where debris is being collected anddeposited of any special hazards they may encounter during recoveryand clean-up efforts.

  • Don’t allow employees to consume food or beverages that wereexposed to floodwaters or perishables that may have spoiled.

  • Don’t allow employees to eat, drink or smoke in areas containingdebris, floodwaters or sludge.

  • Remind employees to wash their hands before eating, drinking,smoking or using the restroom. If safe drinking water isn’tavailable, use hand sanitizer or commercial sanitizing wipes.

  • Ensure that you have immunization records and blood typesavailable for all employees in case of injury.




As Hurricane Matthew moves through the area, workers cleartree limbs and debris from a street Oct. 7, 2016, in Cocoa, Fla.(Photo: AP/John Raoux)


4. Keep traffic safety in mind

  • Protect employees exposed to vehicular traffic during theclean-up operations by posting warning signs along roadways to warndrivers of work in progress.

  • Use flaggers, traffic cones and highway channeling devices tosteer traffic away from employees working along the roadway.

  • Provide all employees with high-visibility reflective vests tobe easily spotted by equipment operators, emergency vehicles,drivers and others.

  • Ensure all motorized equipment has operational back-up alarms,so nearby employees are aware of movements.

  • Provide radio equipment and extra batteries to all spotters andequipment operators, so warnings can be communicated.

  • Require the use of seatbelts and rollover protection for allequipment when hazards of tip-over are present.

  • Don’t allow employees to enter debris piles while the debris isbeing worked by mechanical equipment.


Linemen working on power lines Hurricane Matthew


A lineman works to restore power lines near I-95 after thearea was flooded by rain from Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, N.C.,Oct. 11, 2016. (Photo: AP/Mike Spencer)


5. Provide for personal protection

  • Have insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin to preventinsect bites on hand.
  • Have appropriate equipment for fall protection, andchemical-protective clothing if employees might come into contactwith hazardous chemicals.
  • Employees should wear safety glasses with side shields toprotect their eyes from flying objects, large chips andparticles.
  • Employees working on, over or near water that presents adrowning hazard must wear appropriate personal flotation devices,approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Employers must also provide alifesaving skiff and a ring buoy, as appropriate.
  • Employees should wear earmuffs or earplugs, as appropriate,when noise levels exceed 85 decibels. If you can’t measure thedecibel level, OSHA says that ear protection is appropriate whenyou can’t hold a conversation in a normal speaking voice with aperson who is standing at arm’s length away.

For more information on minimizing workplace injuries during adisaster clean-up, see OSHA’s “General Recommendations for Working in All ImpactedAreas.”

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Rosalie Donlon

Rosalie Donlon is the editor in chief of ALM's insurance and tax publications, including NU Property & Casualty magazine and NU You can contact her at [email protected].