The storm is over, but the recovery is only beginning. After making landfall in Texas on August 25, Hurricane Harvey caused massive damage both with high winds and with extreme flooding. Texas Governor Greg Abbot expects damage from the storm to cost at least $150 billion. As people try to return to life and work as normal, many potential hazards await them. For companies trying to resume business, it’s important to consider the workplace safety risks that such a major storm creates.
Workplace Hazards After the Storm
Some businesses face unique hazards. The Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, for example, suffered multiple explosions after the facility flooded. But even for businesses that do not specialize in the manufacturing of hazardous materials, many risks exist. Some of these risks include:
- Flood water: Although Texas is now mostly dry, any remaining flood water must be treated with caution. The water could contain dangerous debris, chemicals and other hazards. Stagnant water can also attract disease-carrying mosquitoes.
- Debris: The storm left debris, including fallen trees and damaged buildings. This debris may form unstable piles or contain sharp edges.
- Structural damage: Many buildings suffered structural damage and may be unstable as a result.
- Electrical issues: Strong winds and flooding can cause damage to electrical systems, increasing the risk of fire and electrocution.
Tips to Promote Workplace Safety
Keep workers safe during the recovery process by maintaining good procedures.
- Don’t barge in. Before entering a damaged or flooded building, assess the situation for safety risks. You may need to take certain precautions, such as turning off the electrical system, before entering.
- Provide proper training. Don’t send employees into potentially hazardous areas until they are fully aware of any risks and know how to respond safely.
- Provide proper equipment. Anyone going into potentially hazardous areas needs the proper equipment, including waders and gloves.
- Take breaks and stay hydrated. Disaster recovery is hard work. Make sure everyone takes breaks and has access to plenty of clean drinking water.
- Keep first aid handy. Any injuries, no matter how minor, should be treated immediately. The risk of infection can increase after a disaster. Also provide sunscreen and insect repellent, and make sure workers use these items.
- Don’t ask workers to do more than is reasonable. Some tasks will require the work of electricians or other trained professionals.
- Use OSHA resources. OSHA offers resources on a variety of hurricane response issues, including carbon monoxide poisoning, mold, electrical safety, demolition safety and more.