Now that a hurricane and a tropical storm have completed their runs up the East Coast, the clean up begins. But it’s not as simple as rolling up your sleeves and grabbing a push broom to move out the muck. Flood waters are usually contaminated and present real health and safety concerns. It is imperative that rescue workers, emergency personnel and clean-up crews give careful attention to hand hygiene and wear protective gloves.
After a hurricane, it can be difficult to obtain clean water. Workers can minimize exposure to diseases in this situation by doing the following:
- Disinfect contaminated water by mixing ¼ teaspoon bleach per gallon of water. Let it stand for 30 minutes. Label the container so that it is not mistaken for drinkable water. Use this water to wash hands with soap before preparing or eating food, after working in a flood water or sewage contaminated area, and after using the toilet.
- If clean or disinfected water is not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizing towelette to remove dirt and germs, and follow with an alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel or foam.
Wearing protective gloves in contaminated flood waters is extremely important. Workers may come into contact with dead animals, human remains and fecal material. If possible, a combination of gloves should be worn – such as a cut-resistant glove liner, and a protective nitrile or latex outer glove. To minimize the risk of developing dermatitis caused by hands perspiring in gloves, a thin cotton glove liner can be worn. Workers allergic to latex should be provided with non-latex alternatives such as nitrile gloves.
To avoid contracting disease, workers should avoid touching their face and mouth while wearing gloves that may be contaminated. Careful attention should also be given to the proper removal of contaminated gloves.
- The hand should be pointed down, and the gloves peeled off starting at the wrist, turning them inside out as they are removed.
- After properly disposing of the gloves, it is important to follow up with a soap and clean or disinfected water hand washing, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
By giving careful attention to hand hygiene and protective nitrile or latex gloves during clean-up in hurricane flooded areas, the risk of contracting disease can be minimized.