Safety Tips When Cleaning Up After a Hurricane

By Robert Kravitz

Safety Tips When Cleaning Up After a Hurricane

As dire as the recent hurricanes have been in Florida, Houston, and Puerto Rico, with cleanup operations now getting underway, this can be a lucrative opportunity for many cleaning contractors and those in the restoration industry.  However, let’s not look at it necessarily as a money making opportunity, but more as a way of helping these people get their lives back in order.

Before jumping in, however, here are a few things you should know about cleaning up after a serious storm:

Structural integrity. From the outside, a storm- or flood-damaged building may look like it survived. But in reality, the building may be just about to come down. If there is any concern about the structural integrity of a building, have a qualified engineer or builder inspect it before attempting cleanup operations.

Ventilation.  One of the most useful first steps you can take to clean up a building is to open all the windows.  Try and get as much air circulation moving as possible. If there is electrical power, and it is safe to use electricity, install air movers and dehumidifiers.  This can help reduce mold, fungi, and mildew growth, and decrease the number of airborne microorganisms in the air.

Electrical hazards. Very often, the building’s electricity will be off when beginning cleanup operations. But always assume it may come on at any time, which can be very dangerous. Turn off circuit breakers in work areas until the water has been removed and the facility has had a chance to dry out.  To protect yourself, purchase water-detection equipment to help determine if areas are dry enough to work in. Electricity is carried through water.

Personal Protective Gear. Once cleanup operations begin, dangerous pathogens and microorganisms will cover just about everything.  A splash of water off one of these surfaces and in your eyes can cause serious damage.  Wear sealed goggles that cover your entire eye area, gloves, protective clothing, and respirators such as a paint respirator for protection.

Remove debris. One of first major undertakings will be to remove debris from the work area.  This will help you better assess the damage in the building and create a safer work environment.

Furniture and floor coverings.  Don’t even think about salvaging these items. After a major storm, it is very unlikely furniture, carpet and most hard surface floor coverings can be restored.  They are simply too porous.  Contaminated water will be trapped in these pores, increasing the chances that mold, mildew, and fungi will begin proliferating very quickly. 

If the facility is structurally stable, once debris and furniture have been removed, and the facility has had a chance to dry out, actual cleanup operations can begin.  A no-touch cleaning system is one of the most effective ways to cleanup a storm-ravaged building. 

Our goal at this point is to remove soils from floors, walls, counters, fixtures, etc.  Apply cleaning solution to these areas using the no-touch system and then power rinsing the same areas. This will remove most soils as well as many of the contaminants and pathogens on these surfaces. Use the no-touch system to vacuum up the moisture.

Once these steps are completed, we can decide if the same areas must be disinfected. Cleaning and disinfecting are normally a two-step process.

However, with the no-touch system, disinfecting may not be necessary. The system may have removed most contaminants on these surfaces, helping to eliminate this second step.  Using an ATP rapid monitoring system can assist in determining if further disinfecting is necessary.

Throughout the storm cleanup process, safety has to be your top concern. In many cases, people survive the storm, but are injured or killed when the cleanup operations begin.  Think Safety. Work Safely.

Robert Kravitz

Robert Kravitz

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, having owned, operated, and then sold three contract cleaning companies in Northern California.

He is the author of two books about the industry and continues to be a frequent writer for the industry. 

Robert is now president of AlturaSolutions Communications, which provides communications and marketing services for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.

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