5 Safety and Health Hazards When Doing Wildfire Cleanup
September 3, 2021
Every first responder will tell you that there is no simple way to clean disaster sites. This is especially true, as well as timely, for wildfires raging across the US. But with the right strategy and Personal Protective Equipment, you can avoid most hazards and stay safe while dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters.
In the US, the average year-to-date is 33,447 fires burning 3.69 million acres, impacting people, places and the environment. Wildfires’ destructive powers continue to pose significant danger to human health and safety even after the fire has been extinguished. Cleaning up without proper protection puts workers’ health at risk, as burned materials and unstable structures are hazardous and require more than gloves and a mask (which are also important, by the way).
Potential hazards in fire cleanup areas include:
Wildfires can damage electrical wires or can cause the disruption of power distribution in the affected area. As powerlines are re-energized and electrical equipment is back on, cleanup workers can get injured. It’s mandatory that they take safety precautions such as avoiding downed power lines or electrical circuits near water. Wearing compliant PPE, such as rubber gloves, electrically insulated, and watertight shoes, are recommended for any electrical work.
· Flammable gases
When returning to a disaster site, accidental gas leaks represent a serious hazard, as they pose a huge threat to people, properties, and the environment. Cleanup workers must stay alert at the possibility of encountering ruptured gas pipes and other discharge of flammable and toxic gasses. There is a wide range of technologies and devices, from gas detectors, flame detectors, and natural gas alarms, that can provide monitoring, ensuring detection, hazard mitigation and life protection.
· Unstable structures
Cleaning up acres of debris left after a ravaging fire includes the removal of burnt homes. But entering a damaged structure exposes cleanup workers to a variety of risks including falling objects. The protection of hard hats is therefore important. These should be lightweight, comfortable, and with quality suspension.
Demolition or cleanup work involving steel cutting and concrete sawing increases the risk of eye injury from flying particles or hot liquid droplets. In these environments, workers need protection in the form of full-face visors.
· Carbon monoxide poisoning
Various gasses can accumulate after a catastrophic event has passed or a structural fire is extinguished. Take, for example, carbon monoxide (CO). Since CO has no odor, color, or taste, it can accumulate in dangerous concentrations indoors and can stay undetected. Cleanup crews always need to wear respiratory protection and have portable gas detection available when cleaning up after a natural disaster.
· Ash, soot and dust
When working in fire-damaged structures, dust and soot can become airborne, so workers need to wear sealed eyewear. This protects their eyes from airborne debris, as well as from impact and other extreme weather conditions. And anti-fog lenses help preserve vision when exertion, heat, and humidity are present.
Air quality can also become unhealthy when dust from fire debris becomes airborne. To prevent this, cleanup workers have to wear appropriate respiratory protection and control and monitor dust levels in the air.
To ensure a safe cleanup, PPE must be used according to safe work practices. All individuals participating in cleanup efforts must review user instructions and understand the limitations of PPE.
Keeping cleanup crews safe requires appropriate PPE. No matter the cleanup hazards, Honeywell has the personal protective equipment that provides comfort, performance, and protection. Check out our comprehensive range of world-class PPE.
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