Hurricane Relief: How to Protect Yourself During Recovery Efforts

Author: Joel Mitchell


With the destruction left behind by Hurricane Harvey—and touchdown of Hurricane Irma looming—we turn our thoughts toward relief, recovery, and cleanup. As with any major reconstruction project, cleanup crews, volunteers, and other workers in Houston and the surrounding areas should take special care to protect themselves by wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

The storms’ floodwaters contain numerous harmful chemicals, bacteria, debris, and mold growth that can have long-term (or even deadly) effects if strict safety precautions are neglected. Here are some common post-storm and flood hazards to be aware of and their accompanying OSHA-required safety guidelines, which all restoration workers should adhere to during the coming weeks of disaster recovery.

  • Sewage & Chemically Contaminated Floodwater

    Pesticides, household cleaning products, gasoline, and infectious bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella may all be lurking in floodwater. Avoid contact and reduce the risk of spreading pollutants by wearing waterproof and chemical-resistant PPE, including steel-toed waterproof boots, an impenetrable body suit and hood, latex or rubber gloves, and safety goggles. Be sure to check periodically for holes and tears during cleanup activity; and, when not using disposable PPE, clean your clothing and coverings thoroughly before working at new locations.

  • Airborne Toxins

    Exposure risks that cleanup crews face include mold growth, asbestos, and more. These risks intensify when workers are confined to small spaces for long periods of time. Not only does OSHA have regulations on how long you can spend working in a confined space (based on temperature), it also requires the use of non-vented goggles, long, chemical-resistant gloves, and disposable protective clothing such as coveralls. In addition, use appropriate NIOSH-approved respirators based on the particular needs of the site.

  • Debris & Unstable Sites

    As demolished homes, businesses, and other buildings number in the hundreds of thousands, relief workers will find themselves working among potentially harmful wreckage and within unsteady structures. Operating in sturdy, puncture-proof PPE will help stave off injury or accident.

The road to recovery may be long and arduous, but it can also be safe with the proper measures in place. Avetta can help organizations improve health and safety performance in their supply chains by evaluating contractors and suppliers; for more information please visit

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