Health officials stress post-storm illness and injury prevention

(WRIC) — As cleanup efforts get underway following Wednesday’s damaging storms and tornadoes in Virginia, the Virginia Department of Health reminds everyone to take special precautions to prevent injuries and illness.

“Debris, floodwater and other remnants of the storm may harbor disease-causing bacteria and viruses,” cautions State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine, MD, MPH, FAAFP. “Basic hygiene is always important, but especially so during cleanup efforts following a storm. Germs are spread when people forget to wash their hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water. When the winds and waters recede, people in the areas affected by the severe weather will continue to face a number of hazards associated with cleanup activities.”

Follow these tips to stay safe following a storm:

  • Wear Protective Gear

For most work in flooded areas, wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves and watertight boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank).
Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce risk from equipment noise. Equipment such as chain saws, backhoes and dryers may cause ringing in the ears and subsequent hearing damage.
Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.

  • Beware of Electrical Hazards

If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.
Never enter flooded areas or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet unless you are certain that the power is off.
Never touch a downed power line.
When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the off position prior to starting the generator.
If clearing or other work must be performed near a downed power line, contact the utility company to discuss de-energizing and grounding or shielding of power lines. Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact.

  • Avoid Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe. During flood cleanup, operate all gasoline-powered devices such as pumps, generators, and pressure washers outdoors and never bring them indoors. This will help to ensure your safety from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Prevent Muscle and Bone Injury

Special attention is needed to avoid back injuries associated with manual lifting and handling of debris and building materials. To help prevent muscle and bone injury:

Use teams of two or more to move bulky objects.
Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds.
Use proper automated-assist lifting devices.
Use caution or seek professional assistance when removing fallen trees, cleaning up debris or using equipment, such as chain saws.
Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.

  • Avoid Hazardous Materials

Flood waters can dislodge tanks, drums, pipes, and equipment, which may contain hazardous materials such as pesticides or propane.

Do not attempt to move unidentified dislodged containers without first contacting the local fire department or hazardous materials team.
If working in potentially contaminated areas, avoid skin contact or inhalation of vapors by wearing appropriate protective clothing and respirators.
Frequently and thoroughly wash skin that may have been exposed to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.

  • Food Safety Precautions – When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

Perishable foods including meats, dairy products, and eggs that haven’t been refrigerated for more than two hours should be discarded because they are no longer safe to consume.
Foods that have been contaminated by flooding should also be discarded.
Be particularly careful to thoroughly disinfect surfaces that may come in contact with food, such as counter tops, pantry shelves, pots and pans, dishes and inside refrigerators, etc.

  • Prevent Drowning

When entering moving water, you are at risk for drowning, regardless of your ability to swim. Because those in vehicles are at greatest risk of drowning, it is important to comply with all hazard warnings on roadways and to avoid driving vehicles or heavy equipment into water of an unknown depth.

For more tips on preventing illness and injury following a storm, go to www.vdh.virginia.gov.

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