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Flood and Mold Cleanup Hazards

By September 13, 2017February 5th, 2020No Comments

Cleanup work of any kind can be dangerous, but flood conditions make this work even harder. However, following the recommendations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will help keep you safe and healthy while cleaning up. After natural disasters excessive moisture, flooding, and standing water can cause mold growth in buildings. When returning home be aware that mold may be present and can be a health risk.

Cleaning Up Mold:


Porous items, such as, carpeting, carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, ceiling tiles, insulation material, some clothing, leather, paper, some wood and wood products and food, must be removed if they have been wet for more than 48 hours. These items must be removed as these items can remain a source of mold growth.  Other wet items and surfaces must be cleaned with detergent and water to prevent mold growth. Do not mix cleaning products together. DO NOT mix bleach and ammonia because it can create toxic vapors. If there is excessive mold, professional cleaners must be hired. When hiring contractors make sure that they are experienced in cleaning mold and are licensed by your state. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations in the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists ( or other guidelines from professional organizations or state agencies. Contact your state health department’s website for information about state licensing requirements for contractors in your state.

Other Mold Removal Tips:


  • Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove moisture. Do not use fans if mold has already started to grow, because they may spread the mold.
  • Ensure that laundry is washed in safe water. If the items are only wet, they can be laundered normally. Adding chlorine bleach to the wash cycle can remove most mildew and sanitize the clothing.
  • Nonporous items (e.g., dishes, pots, glass items, and hard plastic items) can be salvaged. However, because floodwaters are contaminated, nonporous items should be washed by hand in a disinfectant and then air-dried. Do not use a dish towel.
  • All surfaces of an HVAC system and all its components that were submerged during a flood are potential reservoirs for dirt, debris, and microorganisms, including bacteria and mold. Therefore, all flood water-contaminated and moisture-laden components of the HVAC system should be thoroughly inspected, cleaned of dirt and debris, and disinfected by a qualified professional.

Health Tips:


  • Take frequent rest breaks when lifting heavy, water-laden objects. Avoid overexertion and practice good lifting techniques. Also, consider using teams of two or more to move bulky items that weigh more than 50 pounds. Or, use a proper automatic lifting assistance device, if practical.
  • When working in hot environments, have plenty of water available to drink, use sunscreen and take frequent rest breaks out of the sun. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Be sure that a first aid kit is available in case of cuts or other small injuries. If you do get hurt while working, protect the injury with waterproof gloves and dressings.
  • Wash your hands often during the day, especially before eating, drinking, touching your face or applying cosmetics.

General Precautions:

  • Before entering a flooded area, use a wooden stick or pole to check for pits, holes and protruding objects.
  • Ensure that all ladders and scaffolds are properly secured prior to use.
  • Conduct a preliminary worksite inspection to verify stability before entering a flooded or formerly flooded building, or before operating vehicles over roadways or surfaces.
  • Do not work in or around any flood damaged building until it has been examined and certified as safe for work by a registered professional engineer or architect.
  • Washouts, trenches, excavations and gullies must be supported or their stability should be verified prior to entry. All trenches should be supported with a trench box.
  • Establish a plan among employees for contacting medical personnel in the event of an emergency.
  • Report any obvious hazards (downed power lines, frayed electric wires, gas leaks or snakes) to the appropriate authorities and your supervisor.
  • Use fuel-powered generators outdoors only, as they present a carbon monoxide hazard.
  • Use life vests when engaged in activities that could result in deep water exposure.
  • Use extreme caution when handling containers holding unknown substances or known toxic substances. If you see any of these hazards, alert your supervisor so he/she can contact the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for disposal information.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Clothing

  • Always wear watertight boots with a steel toe and insole, gloves, long pants and safety glasses during cleanup operations; street shoes should not be worn because they cannot protect against punctures, bites or crush injuries. Also wear a hardhat if there is a risk of falling debris.
  • Wear a NIOSH-approved dust respirator, if you are working with moldy building materials or with vegetable matter (hay, stored grain or compost).
  • When handling bleach or other chemicals, follow the directions on the package and wear eye, hand and face protection. Also have plenty of clean water available for emergency eye washing or other first aid.

Electrical Hazards:

  • Do not touch downed power lines or any object or water they may be in contact with.
  • Treat all power lines as if they are energized until you have specific confirmation that they have been deenergized.
  • Beware of overhead and underground power lines when clearing debris. Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders or other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid accidental contact.
  • If damage to an electrical system is suspected (examples: wiring has been under water, you can smell burning insulation, wires are visibly frayed or you can see sparks), turn off the electrical system in the building and follow all lockout/tagout procedures. Do not turn the power back on until the electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.
  • When using a generator, be sure that the main circuit breaker is OFF and is locked out prior to starting. This will prevent unintentional energization of power lines from back feed electrical energy and will help protect utility line workers from possible electrocution.
  • Be aware that de-energized power lines may become energized by a secondary power source.
  • Any electrical equipment used in wet environments must be marked for use in wet locations and must be undamaged. Be sure that all connections are out of water.
  • All cord-connected, electrically operated tools and equipment must be grounded or double-insulated.
  • Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) must be used in all wet locations.

Fire Protection

  • Immediately evacuate any building that has a gas leak until it is controlled and the area is ventilated.
  • Be sure that an adequate number of fire extinguishers are available. Be sure that all fire exits are clear of debris and sandbags.
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