Cleaning up safely after a disaster 

Across the Caribbean massive clean up and rescue operations are underway in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and just this week Hurricane Maria in several countries.  Everyone is anxious to get their lives back on track and most rush headlong into clearing away the debris and salvaging their belonging. However it’s important that the cleaning process is implemented in as safe a manner as possible. Failing to take proper security measures could lead to a variety of mishaps and even serious injuries.

Before attempting to deal with the results of a catastrophic event, here are a few tips to explore some tips on cleaning up safely after a disaster.

 Get the right safety gear

 Before the cleanup, make sure you’re prepped with the right gear:

·      Hard hats

·      Goggles

·      Heavy work gloves

·      Waterproof boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank)

·      Earplugs or protective headphones (if you’re working with noisy equipment)

·      At least two fire extinguishers (each with a UL rating of at least 10A)

If sewage is involved, make sure to wear the following during your cleanup:

·      Rubber boots

·      Rubber gloves

·      Goggles

 Pace yourself

Cleaning up can be a big job. Be sure to take care of yourself:

·      Rest when you need to.

·      Decide which cleanup tasks are most important, and focus on those first. That way, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed.

·      Get help lifting heavy or bulky objects. If you lift too much on your own, you could hurt yourself.

·      Try to work with other people, so you aren’t alone.

·      Get support from family members, friends, counselors, or therapists.

Use teams to move heavy/bulky objects

·      Have teams of at least two people work together to move heavy or bulky objects.

·      Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).

Prevent mold

·      Clean up and dry your home quickly after the storm or flood ends- within 24 to 48 hours if possible.

·      Air out your house by opening doors and windows. Use fans to dry wet areas.

·      Throw away anything that you can’t clean or dry quickly (such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and paper products).

·      Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.

·      Thoroughly clean all wet items and surfaces with hot water and laundry or dish detergent. For example, you’ll want to clean any flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures.

·      Fix any leaks in roofs, walls, or plumbing as soon as you can.

Hygiene and preventing diseases

Disinfect toys

Remember that anything that’s had contact with floodwater could carry germs. To keep your kids safe, make sure their toys are clean:

·      Make a cleaning fluid by mixing 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water.

·      Wash off toys carefully with your cleaner.

·      Let the toys air dry.

You may not be able to kill germs on some toys  like stuffed animals and baby toys. Throw out toys you can’t clean.

Wash up with soap and water

·      Wash up with soap and water once you’re done cleaning.

·      If there is a boil-water advisory in effect:

·  Use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing); or

·  Use water that’s been disinfected for personal hygiene:

·  When using 5-6% unscented liquid household chlorine bleach – add a little less than 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops or about 0.5 milliliters) per 1 gallon of clear water. Stir well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, add a little less than ¼ teaspoon (16 drops or about 1 milliliter) per 1 gallon of water.

· When using 8.25% unscented liquid household chlorine bleach – add a little less than 1/8 teaspoon (6 drops or about 0.5 milliliters) per 1 gallon of clear water. Stir well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, add 12 drops (or about 1 milliliter) per 1 gallon of water.

·      If you have any open cuts or sores that were exposed to floodwater, wash them with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment to prevent an infection.

·      Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or sick.

·      Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.

Potential Hazards

Be careful when entering damaged buildings

·      Stay away from any damaged buildings or structures until a building inspector or other government authority has had a chance to examine it and certify that it’s safe.

·      Wait until daylight to return to buildings so it’s easier to see and avoid any hazards- especially if the power is out.

·      Leave your home or building if you hear any shifting or strange noises- this could mean it’s about to fall.

·      If you smell gas or suspect a leak, leave your house/building and contact emergency authorities right away! Don’t turn on the lights, light matches, smoke, or do anything that can cause a spark. Don’t return to the building until you’re told it’s safe to do so.

·      Keep children and pets away from the affected area until cleanup has been completed.

 Be aware of any electrical hazards

·      If electrical circuits and electrical equipment have gotten wet or are in or near water, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off.

·      Never turn power on or off or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.

·      Do not connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is on line when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard and it may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.

Source: Source : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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