Workers cleaning up mud after a natural disaster

Cleaning Up After a Natural Disaster

Natural disasters are unpredictable and can have devastating effects on cities, homes and businesses. Following extraordinary situations such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes, small business owners may look to their employees to pitch in with clean-up and rebuilding efforts. As important as recovery efforts are to get the business up-and-running again, the all-hands-on-deck approach can expose small business owners and their employees to greater risk of injury, especially when performing tasks that are outside their normal scope of work or abilities. Even during extraordinary circumstances, it’s important to prioritize the safety and health of employees first.

In many cases, recovery efforts should be left to professionals. Standing contaminated water, downed power lines and extensively damaged materials are common after hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Handling them may require training and protective equipment, such as hazmat gear.

Special precautions should be taken even for cleaning up minor damage. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides helpful information[1] about identifying potential hazards and preventative steps to protect employees.

Common hazards that small business owners need to be aware of after natural disasters include:

Although it may be tempting to enlist employees to help get the business operational again, it is critical to take precautions to avoid employee injuries or illnesses that could occur during clean-up. For more information on preparing for and recovering from a natural disaster, contact the Health Studies Branch[5] of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), OSHA[6], or EMPLOYERS.

[1] The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Keeping Workers Safe during Disaster Cleanup and Recovery,
[2] The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Protect Yourself: Respirators,
[3] The Bureau of Labor Statistics, NonFatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2015,
[4] The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Fall Hazards Trainer Guide,
[5] Center for Disease Control Health Studies Branch, Preparedness and Response for Public Health Disasters,
[6] The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Fact Sheet on Natural Disaster Recovery: Cleanup Hazard,