Working in a Flood Zone Can Be Perilous
Construction crews can find themselves in perilous situations following floods due to heavy rains, hurricanes, or rising rivers. Follow some general guidelines when assessing or cleaning up damaged worksites.
Some of these operations should only be conducted by workers who have proper training, including cleaning up hazardous materials spills or utility restoration.
Even getting to a flooded job site can put you in peril. Almost half of flood fatalities are vehicle-related. Some cars can stall in as little as six inches of water and two feet of moving water can sweep a car off the road. Abandon your vehicle if the water level is rising around it.
And, if you do not know the depth of water on a roadway, steer clear.
Some of the most common hazards in flood conditions include lifting injuries, carbon monoxide, electrical hazards, mold, drowning and hypothermia. Other hazards include exhaustion, heat and rodents and snakes.
First, on electrical. If water is anywhere near electrical circuits or equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse. Do not enter flooded areas or touch electrical equipment when water is present. The possibility of electrocution is real.
Steer well clear of downed or damaged power lines and report them to emergency responders. Only trained electric utility workers should work on damaged power lines.
Those professionals will assess the hazards to minimize the chances of making the situation worse. Lines must be de-energized and electrical workers can use the proper safety equipment to do that.
Hazards also exist when clearing debris. There are safety precautions you can take. Again, there is a potential for electrocution if downed trees are touching live wires. There is also a potential to be crushed by falling trees or injured by equipment such as chainsaws or chippers.
Always use equipment built for the outdoors that can be used in wet conditions. Make sure all equipment is well-maintained and functioning correctly. Also, make sure all equipment has working controls and manufacturer-installed safety devices.
When using diesel- or gas-powered generators, pressure washers, or pumps, keep in mind that all release carbon monoxide, a deadly colorless gas. In addition, this equipment must be operated outdoors in wide-open spaces, never inside a confined space.
Take care in flood situations not to injure your back, knees, or shoulders while lifting materials such as sandbags or fallen tree limbs. Always use proper lifting techniques and, when possible, work in teams when moving bulky or heavy objects.
It is also essential to protect yourself against biting and stinging insects and snakes. Do this by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks and use insect repellant containing DEET or Picaridin.
Watch where you place your feet and your hands when removing debris and try to keep your fingers from going under the debris you are moving. Wear heavy gloves. Wear boots at least 10 inches high and if you see a snake, move away and let it proceed. If you get bitten by a snake, try to note its color and the shape of its head. Stay calm to avoid the spread of venom.
Taking these precautions can spare you injury or even death when working in a flood zone. Always prepare in advance for what you might encounter.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.