Safety Awareness for Responders to Hurricanes: Protecting Yourselves While Helping Others

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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Summary Statement

This is a training tool to raise awareness of the hazards and protective measures when responding to the aftermath of a hurricane.

This Powerpoint presentation, Protecting Yourself While Helping Others, is a training tool. This training tool does not replace training specific to a hurricane response, additional duty specific training or PPE specific training requirements. Regardless of work scope, there are many topics covered in this awareness training tool that have corresponding OSHA standards which must be met in order to safely and legally perform associated job duties.

Photo of Hurricane damage

Developed by HMTRI through cooperative agreement # 2U45 ES006177-14 with NIEHS

Photo of hurricane clean upOverview

Training Objectives

  • Identify the hazards in the field
  • Explain how to protect yourself from these hazards
  • Increase safety and health awareness

Photo of hurricane damage


photo of hurricane damage

Workers' Rights

What are employers' responsibilities?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace free of recognized hazards and to follow OSHA standards. Employers' responsibilities also include providing training, medical examinations and record keeping.

For more information about OSHA, go to or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742)

What are workers' responsibilities?

  • Follow the employer's safety and health rules and wear or use all required gear and equipment
  • Follow safe work practices for your job, as directed by your employer
  • Report hazardous conditions to a supervisor.
  • Report hazardous conditions to OSHA, if employers do not fix them

Photo of vehicle at clean up sightInjuries May Result From

  • Vehicle accidents
  • Struck by
  • Falls
  • Contusions
  • Lacerations

Emergency in the Field

  • For minor injuries or concerns go to:
    • Local hospitals or clinics
    • First Aid or nurse station
  • In serious emergency call 911
    • Know your exact location
  • Notify your supervisor or safety officer

Protect Yourself

  • Walking over and handling debris that is unstable can cause cuts, scrapes, bruises, sprains, etc.
    • Remain current with tetanus vaccination
      • Revaccinate for a dirty wound if current vaccination is over 5 years old
      • If you will be performing direct patient care or otherwise expected to have contact with bodily fluids, get the Hepatitis B vaccine series
  • Avoid contact with stagnant water
    • Wash and sanitize immediately if exposed
  • Consider steel toe/shank non-slip footwear if available
  • Use durable gloves when handling debris
  • Use hearing protection for noisy environments

Hazard: Falls

Hazard: Ladders

Ladders can create a falling hazard. Make sure your ladder is secure:

  • Photo of building with crane Position portable ladders so the side rails extend at least 3 feet above the landing.
  • Secure side rails at the top to a rigid support and use a grab device when 3 foot extension is not possible.
  • Do not apply more weight on the ladder than it is designed to support and make sure that the weight on the ladder will not cause it to slip off its support.
  • Before each use, inspect ladders for cracked, broken, or defective parts.
  • Use only ladders that comply with OSHA standards.

Diagram of correct ladder placement

The Blue Tarps

Photo of damaged roof with blue tarping

Aerial Lifts

Photo of Aerial Lift

QA Towers

Photo of QA Tower with no buffer. Photo of properly buffered QA Tower
No Cone or Barrier between traffic and QA Tower A proper zone buffer between traffic and QA Tower

Hazard: Driving

Photo of hazard driving

Traffic Issues

Photo of traffic issues in hazard area

Work Zone Safety

Photo of correct work zone safety

Component Parts of aテmporary Traffic Control Zone

Diagram of temporary traffic control zone

Minimum Signs Recommended in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)

Diagram of sign placement for road work

Photo of road work zone

Debris Truck Hazards
Photo of potential truck debris hazard

Hazard: Electrical, Overhead Power Lines, Downed Electrical Wires, Cables

photPhoto of downed power lineJobs Affected

  • Debris removal
  • Tree pruning

Hazard Control

  • Use appropriately grounded low-voltage equipment
  • Stay clear of downed electrical lines
  • Do not work within 10 feet of energized power lines if you are not a qualified worker
  • Only qualified employees may guard or insulate the lines

Exposed Underground ポwer Lines

Photo of exposed underground power line

Photo of chain saw operationHazard: Operating a Chain Saw

  • Wear the appropriate protective equipment
  • Always cut at waist level or below
  • Avoid contact with power lines
  • Bystanders or coworkers should remain at least:
    • 2 tree lengths (at least 150 feet) away from anyone felling a tree. 30 feet from anyone operating a chain saw to remove limbs or cut a fallen tree.

Hazard: Eye Injuries

  • Use safety glasses with side shields as a minimum
    • An eye wear retainer strap is suggested
  • Consider safety goggles for protection from fine dust particles or for use over regular prescription eye glasses
  • Any worker using a welding torch for cutting must have special eye wear to protect against welding flash
    • Welding flash causes severe burns to the eyes and surrounding tissue
  • Use only protective eyewear that has an ANSI Z87 mark on the lenses or frames

Photo of potential flying debrisHazard: Flying Debris/マterial Handling

  • Wear personal protective equipment, including hard hats, safety shoes, eye glasses, and work gloves
  • Do not walk under or through areas where cranes and other heavy equipment are being used to lift objects
  • Make sure that you have an up-to-date tetanus immunization

Hazard: Debris Piles/nstable Work Surfaces

  • Don\'t walk on surfaces you aren\'t sure are stable Use other ways to get to work surfaces, such as bucket trucks
  • Erect scaffolding on stable surfaces and anchor it to stable structures
  • Wear protective equipment provided, including safety shoes with slip resistant soles
  • Use fall protection with lifelines tied off to suitable anchorage points, including bucket trucks, whenever possible

Hazard: Confined Space

Photo of worker entering man holeWhat is a Confined Space?

  • Limited access
  • Not designed for normal occupancy
  • Large enough for bodily entry
  • Example: sewers/storm drains

Your Safety Officer Must Approve Confined Space Entry!!!!


  • Oxygen deficiency
  • Entrapment
  • Engulfment
  • Hazardous atmosphere

Structural Integrity

Photo of partially collapsed structure

Hazard: Heavy Equipment

  • Photo of heavy equipmentBe alert to the activities around you
  • Do not exceed the load capacity of cranes and other lifting equipment
  • Do not walk under or through areas where cranes and other heavy equipment are lifting objects
  • Do not climb onto or ride loads being lifted or moved
  • Use outriggers when operating equipment on unstable ground
  • Do not ride in or on buckets, forks or blades of heavy equipment

Photo of backhoesHeavy Equipment

  • Forklifts
  • Bobcats
  • Loaders
  • Backhoes
  • ATV\'s


  • Loud noise
    • Use hearing protection
  • Flying debris
    • Stay back 300 feet
  • Moving parts
    • Do not reach into a machine
    • Do not use machine unless trained and authorized

Photo of chipper

Health Hazards

Photo of chemical waste container

Hazard: Heat Related Illness

Heat Stress
Profuse sweating
Muscle aches
Heat Exhaustion
Sweating-pale, clammy skin
Cramps, legs & abdomen
Rapid, weakening pulse & breathing
Heat Stroke
Hot, flushed dry skin
Body temp above 104°F Unresponsive/disoriented

Hydration is Critical!!

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Drink when you\'re thirsty. Drink sports drinks, instead of water, if possible

Photo of worker at rest

Hazard: Sunburn

  • Prevent overexposing skin
  • Sunglasses, if used, must be ANSI approved for use as safety glasses
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm
  • Use protective eyewear Limit exposure

Hazard: Noise

  • Wear appropriate hearing protection in noisy work environments
    • Examples: saws, earth-moving equipment, pneumatic tools

Photo of heavy equipment

Hazard: Inhalation of Dust Containing Asbestos, Silica and Other Toxins

  • Jobs affected
    • Debris removal & dumping
    • Loading trucks
    • Demolition
  • Protection
    • Appropriate respiratory protection

Hazard: Carbon Monoxide Inhalation

Symptoms: Headache, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea; progressing to vomiting, loss of consciousness, and collapse, coma or death under prolonged or high exposures.

Areas affected from gasoline- or propane-powered generators or heavy machinery:

  • Near operating equipment
  • Near generators
  • Fire pits
  • Debris reduction sites
  • Burning and compacting

Photo of damaged rigHazard: Chemicals

  • Chlorine tank found in downtown Gulfport
  • 78,000 barrels of oil released at two spills
  • Diesel, gasoline, motor oil, chlorine, liquid oxygen, medical waste and corrosives have been found by crews
  • 22,000 facilities in the area have underground fuel tank
  • Industrial/commercial chemicals
  • Household chemicals

Potential Chemical Exposures

Symptoms: Eye, nose, throat, upper respiratory tract, and skin irritation; flu like symptoms; central nervous system depression, fatigue, loss of coordination, memory difficulties, sleeplessness, mental confusion. Chronic effects depend on the extent and the duration of exposure.

Photo of protective gearJobs affected

  • Debris removal
  • Site clean-up

Hazard specific as identified by supervisor or safety office

Hazard Communication

Photo of oxygen tanks

Hazard: Mold

After hurricanes and floods, the water creates the perfect environment for mold to grow in homes and other buildings. Exposure to mold can cause wheezing and severe nasal, eye and skin irritation.

Photo of mold damage in building

photo of body removal Hazard: Blood-borne Disease

  • Use latex or similar gloves when handling human remains
  • Replace gloves if punctured or torn
  • Protect yourself from injured persons’ blood and bodily fluids
  • Do not handle human remains if you have skin cuts or punctures

Hazard: Food-borne Disease

Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat:

  • Food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water
  • Food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture
  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for 2Â hours or more
  • Food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned items
    • These cannot be disinfected if they have been in contact with floodwater

Store food safely

  • While the power is out, keep the refrigerator ㄢd freezer doors closed as much as possible
  • Add block ice or dry ice to your refrigerator fi the electricity is expected to be off longer þan 4Â hours. Wear heavy gloves when はndling ice

Photo of submerged manhole coverHazard: Water-borne Disease

Raw sewage bubbles up from a man-hole cover along U.S. Highway 90 in Gulfport. Cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are slowly trying to get electricity to sewage treatment plants and lift stations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Wash Your Hands Often With Soap!! and Use Water-Free Sanitizers

Photo of man with bug repellent Hazard: Animals and Insects

Protect yourself from mosquitoes:

  • Use screens on dwellings
  • Wear long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts
  • Use insect repellents that contain DEET or Picaridin

Beware of wild or stray animals:

  • Avoid wild or stray animals. Call local authorities to handle animals
  • Get rid of dead animals according to local guidelines
  • Wear and clean proper protective clothing when handling carcasses

Fire ants

Photo of snakeHazard: Snakes

Be on the alert for snakes that may be hiding in unusual places after flooding

  • Wear snake chaps
  • If you are bitten, seek immediate medical attention

Hazard: Poisonous Plants

Poison Ivy

  • Train workers on hazardous plant recognition
  • Use gloves and wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when possibility of contacting poisonous plants
Poison ivy Poison ivy poison ivy Poison ivy
Summer Spring Fall It\'s a bush
Poison ivy Poison ivy Poison ivy Poison ivy
It climbs It creeps At the beach Where it grows

Hazard: Traumatic Stress

  • Pace yourself and take frequent rest breaks.
  • Watch out for each other. Co-workers may not notice a hazard nearby or behind.
  • Be conscious of those around you. Responders who are exhausted, feeling stressed, or even temporarily distracted may place themselves and others at risk.
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible: regular eating and sleeping are crucial.
  • Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids such as water and juices.
  • Try to eat a variety of foods and increase your intake of complex carbohydrates (for example, breads and muffins made with whole grains, granola bars).
  • Whenever possible, take breaks away from the work area. Eat and drink in the cleanest area available.
  • Recognize and accept what you cannot change—the chain of command, organizational structure, waiting, equipment failures, etc.
  • Talk to people when YOU feel like it. You decide when you want to discuss your experience. Talking about an event may be reliving it. Choose your own comfort level.
  • If your employer provides you with formal mental health support, use it!
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten: You are in a difficult situation.
  • Recurring thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks are normal—do not try to fight them. They will decrease over time.
  • Communicate with your loved ones at home as frequently as possible.

What you can do at home

  • Reach out—people really do care
  • Reconnect with family, spiritual, and community supports
  • Consider keeping a journal
  • Do not make any big life decisions
  • Make as many daily decisions as possible to give yourself a feeling of control over your life
  • Spend time with others or alone doing the things you enjoy to refresh and recharge yourself
  • Be aware that you may feel particularly fearful for your family. This is normal and will pass in time
  • Remember that "getting back to normal" takes time. Gradually work back into your routine. Let others carry more weight for a while at home and at work.
  • Be aware that recovery is not a straight path but a matter of two steps forward and one back. You will make progress.
  • Appreciate a sense of humor in yourself and others. It is OK to laugh again.
  • Your family will experience the disaster along with you. You need to support each other. This is a time for patience, understanding, and communication.
  • Avoid overuse of drugs or alcohol. You do not need to complicate your situation with a substance abuse problem.
  • Get plenty of rest and normal exercise. Eat well balanced, regular meals.

Other Protective Measures

Sanitation and personal hygiene

  • Always wash your hands with soap
  • Use hand sanitizers frequently
  • Exercise good housekeeping
  • Only drink from proven potable water sources

Additional Information

This training program is based on recommendations from FEMA, NIEHS, NIOSH, OSHA, CDC and the USACE

  • You can find a link to their fact sheets and other important information at the National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety and Health Training website,


The hazards and issues are dynamic and require vigilance and flexibility

The key to a safe response is attention to the safety issues of your work environment

  • The physical hazards are similar to any construction or demolition site
  • The health hazards include the hazards associated with the environment