Spot hidden hazards when cleaning up after severe weather

by on December 4, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

You know that hidden hazards are the hardest to prevent. And when severe weather comes along and upsets the applecart, sharp debris, wires, and other previously known hazards may end up in areas workers don’t expect.

For example, immediately after the mid-Atlantic hurricane, one insulation installer went under a house that suffered flooding under it. The water had moved the owner’s tools, got it with a hurricane and a nor’easter in successive weeks.

A worker, watching for wires caught in insulation sheeting above him, stepped on debris. Under that was a sharp metal garden tool – but his boots protected him from injury.

A small near-miss, but it makes the point: Even when you’re ready for hidden hazards, severe weather requires extra caution and since there may be numerous hazards to watch for at the same time, a full complement of PPE.

Whether your crew is cleaning up after a winter storm or something more severe like the hurricane, here are some reminders to offer workers:

1. Even the initial damage survey can be dangerous
When you and workers survey a site for the first time after severe weather, you face the greatest number of unknowns. Snow covered ice. Loose wiring. Unbalanced materials. Toxic dust. Chemical leaks. Debris that may present a simple trip hazard or cover up sharp objects or slippery ground and floors.

Suggestion: You know the area and the equipment inside. Draw up a list of potential hazards. Limit initial access to prevent too many people in the same area. Wear PPE to prepare for anything – what was there may not be there, and in cases of wind and flooding, what was not on a site previously may be there. And proceed cautiously, drawing up a list (at least in your mind) of potential hazards.

2. Keep up communication
As hazards are identified, workers should communicate them with each other, and any near-misses. You can tell them this, but the best way is to set an

After your survey, huddle with your crew and talk about your findings. Explain there are probably more, and they should call them out. Then do this yourself. On breaks, talk about what you’ve found. That’ll set an example and communication should be natural from there.

3. Remember clean-up ergonomics isn’t SOP
Cleanup can mean that normal work-related lifting and movements don’t apply. For example, moving a tarp over snowcovered equipment adds weight. Workers
need to think about how to do it and make it a two-man job.

If workers are outside, post-storm wind can present a problem, because even light items, such as panels of insulation or scraps of wallboard can act like a sail.

Plus, there may be a lot more bending than usual. Remind workers to watch awkward postures and to monitor their own physical condition carefully. Think
through unusual movements and get help when necessary.

Also, consider offering more breaks to workers, and proceeding a little more slowly. That will allow workers a chance to move deliberately and more carefully review any signs of injury.

photo credit: vastateparksstaff

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