Protecting Yourself While Helping Others


By Chris Kittleson, Director of Loss Control Technical Services - Public Risk Underwriters of Florida, Inc.

Workers required to respond during a hurricane can face a multitude of potential physical / health hazards and therefore it is important to protect yourself from being injured. Physical / health hazards include the follow:

Traffic / Driving / Work Zones

Avoid washed out sections of road, debris and/or potholes. Drive defensively, be prepared for delays and watch for construction vehicles, flaggers, and over loaded vehicles.

    • Worker transportation to the jobsite and around the jobsite present safety hazards that can be reduced through proper planning.

    • Workers who drive in the course of their duties shall possess valid licenses appropriate for the vehicles they are driving (including a commercial driver’s license, if required). Drivers shall comply with all applicable traffic safety regulations. Employers shall ensure compliance with state laws governing the use of seat belts. Vehicles should be equipped with a sufficient number of seats for each passenger.

    • Extra care should be exercised when driving on roads that may have been damaged by the hurricane. Roads may be washed out, undermined, or impassable. If possible, avoid driving into standing water due to the potential for unseen hazards. Be alert for debris and down power lines. Traffic may be heavy, especially around checkpoints Traffic signs are frequently knocked down, and traffic signal lights may be inoperative. Street signs and landmarks may not be available. Allow extra time when traveling and drive defensively.

    • Sufficient parking areas should be arranged for workers in a location convenient to where they report for work. Parking areas shall be adequately lit and graded. Traffic issues include: movement of unusual vehicles; oversized loads such as mobile homes, heavy operating equipment.

Heavy Equipment

    • Operate equipment correctly and safely.

    • Be alert to the activities around you.

    • Do not exceed the load capacity of cranes and other lifting equipment.

    • Do not walk under or through areas where cranes and other heavy equipment are lifting objects.

Heavy Equipment (cont.)

    • Do not climb onto or ride loads being lifted or moved.

    • Do not ride in or on buckets, forks or blades of heavy equipment.

    • Use outriggers when operating equipment on unstable ground.


    • Employees shall be protected from falls greater than six feet to a lower level. Fall protection such as guardrails, coverings over floor holes, or personal fall arrest systems shall be installed conforming to 29 CFR 1926 Subpart M.

    • A qualified person must determine if the walking / working surface is adequate to support the weight of workers, tools, and materials. This is especially important in areas that have been compromised by floodwaters or suffered structural damage from high winds.

    • Use of scaffolds shall conform to 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L. Use of ladders shall conform to 29 CFR 1926 Subpart X. The use of aerial lifts and scissor lifts shall conform to the applicable portions of 29 CFR 1926 as well as relevant ANSI standards.

    • Workers shall pay extra attention to the walking / working surfaces to minimize slip / trip / fall hazards. Extra care should be exercised when stepping into areas that are unstable or uneven, such as debris field, or where the surface cannot be visualized (i.e., if covered by water).

    • Objects that may dislodge and fall, especially broken glass, present a serious hazard to employees. Whenever possible, such objects or glass should be removed before employees work beneath them. If objects cannot be removed, then controls such as debris netting, sidewalk sheds, canopies, or catch platforms shall be installed.


    • Don’t walk on surfaces you aren’t sure are stable.

    • Wear protective equipment provided, including safety shoes with slip resistant soles.

    • Use other ways to get to work surfaces, such as bucket trucks. 

    • Use fall protection with lifelines tied off to suitable anchorage points, including bucket trucks,

    • Erect scaffolding on stable surfaces and anchor it to whenever possible. stable structures.

Electrical, Overhead Power Lines, Downed Electrical Wires, Cables

    • Treat all power lines and cables as energized until proven otherwise.

    • Verifying that a line is not energized may not ensure your safety. Lines on both the load and supply side of the work area must be grounded. Grounding is necessary to protect you from the hazards of feedback electrical energy from a secondary power source, such as a portable generator.

    • When an electrical shock enters the body it may produce different types of injuries. Electrocution results in internal and external injury to body parts or the entire body – often resulting in death. After receiving a “jolt” of electricity all or part of the body may be temporarily paralyzed and this may cause loss of grip or stability. A person may also involuntarily move as a result of receiving an electrical shock, resulting in a fall. Internal or external burns may result from contact with electricity.

    • Electricity travels in closed circuits, and its normal route is through a conductor. Electric shock occurs when the body becomes a part of the circuit.

    • Grounding is a physical connection to the earth, which is at zero volts.

    • The metal parts of electric tools and machines may become energized if there is a break in the insulation of the tool or machine wiring. A worker using these tools and machines is made less vulnerable to electric shock when there is a low-resistance path from the metallic case of the tool or machine to the ground. This is done through the use of an equipment grounding conductor—a low-resistance wire that causes the unwanted current to pass directly to the ground, thereby greatly reducing the amount of current passing through the body of the person in contact with the tool or machine.

    • Employees must not work near any part of an electric power circuit that the employee could contact in the course of work, unless the employee is protected against electric shock by de-energizing the circuit and grounding it or by guarding it effectively by insulation or other means.

    • In work areas where the exact location of underground electric power lines is unknown, employees using jack hammers, bars, or other hand tools which may contact a line shall be provided with insulated protective gloves.

    • Before work is begun, inquire or observe by instruments whether any part of an energized electric power circuit is so located that the performance of the work may bring any person, tool, or machine into physical or electrical contact with the electric power circuit. Post and maintain proper warning signs where such a circuit exists. The employer shall advise employees of the location of such lines, the hazards involved, and the protective measures to be taken.

Confined Space

Work involving confined space entry shall conform to 29 CFR 1910.146. Any agency or contractor that will be performing confined space entry shall develop a specific plan and conduct a Job Hazard Analysis prior to commencing work. Plans shall include space evaluation and established acceptable entry conditions; a permit system; training for entrants, attendants, and supervisors; atmospheric monitoring; and rescue / emergency services.

    • Make sure you and the attendant are trained.

    • Ventilate and monitor for hazardous conditions.

    • Lock out or tag out all power equipment in the space.

    • Issue appropriate PPE, possibly including selfcontained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

    • Establish barriers to external traffic such as vehicles and pedestrians.

    • Provide ladders or similar equipment for safe entry and exit in the space.

    • Provide good communications equipment and alarm systems.

    • Have rescue equipment and trained personnel nearby.

Heat Stress

    • Know the signs of heat-related illnesses.

    • Monitor yourself and coworkers, use the buddysystem.

    • Block out direct sun or other heat sources.

    • Use cooling fans / air-conditioning and rest regularly.

    • Drink lots of water, about 1 cup every 15 minutes.

    • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.

    • Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or heavy meals.

    • Get medical help for symptoms such as altered vital signs, confusion, profuse sweating, and excessive fatigue.

    • Take shelter in shaded areas and, for firemen, unbutton and remove bunker gear.

Inhalation of Carbon Monoxide or Dust Containing Asbestos, Silica, Mold and Other Toxins

    • A medical evaluation is required prior to using a respirator other than a nuisance dust mask.

    • Protect yourself from breathing dust, it can contain toxic material.

    • An N-95 or greater respirator is acceptable for most activities, including silica and Portland cement dust.

    • If asbestos is present, use a half-mask elastomeric respirator with N, R, or P-100 series filters.

    • If airborne contaminants are causing eye irritation, full-face respirators with P-100 OV/AG combination cartridges should be used.

    • Do a positive and negative seal check every time you wear your respirator and wash it at least once a day.

    • Make sure you are fit-tested for a respirator; it must fit properly to protect you. • Surgical masks should not be used because they do not provide adequate protection.

Traumatic Stress

    • Pace yourself and take frequent rest breaks.

    • Watch out for each other. Co-workers may not notice a hazard nearby or behind.

    • Be conscious of those around you. Responders who are exhausted, feeling stressed or even temporarily distracted may place themselves and others at risk.

    • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible: regular eating and sleeping are crucial.

    • Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids such as water and juices.

    • Try to eat a variety of foods and increase your intake of complex carbohydrates (for example, breads and muffins made with whole grains, granola bars).

    • Whenever possible, take breaks away from the work area. Eat and drink in the cleanest area available.

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