With all of the wildfires here in California in recent weeks, fire is on the minds of many people here in the state. Even if you were fortunate enough not to be in one of the areas devastated by these fires, you could still find yourself in the position of cleaning up after the flames are put out and the smoke dissipates.
You may think that the danger has passed at this point, but in many cases, the dangers to you have only just begun. The business of cleanup after a fire presents a new host of hazards that could cause a work-related injury. It may help to know what at least some of those hazards are in order to protect yourself if you can.
The dangers of lifting and moving objects
One of the first tasks may be to clear the scene of debris. Keeping the following precautions in mind could spare you from a musculoskeletal injury:
- Use automated lifting devices for heavier objects
- Use teamwork to lift heavier objects
- Limit sole lifting to no more than 50 pounds
- Use proper lifting techniques
Lifting objects that are too heavy or lifting objects improperly could result in neck and back injuries that may prevent you from working. Following proper safety measures as you remove debris could save you the pain and frustration of a debilitating injury.
The dangers from the structure itself
Fire and water can destabilize the structure. Your employer should not require you to enter the structure until after an inspection to determine whether it is safe to enter. Even so, assuming that all floors, roofs and stairs could become unstable may keep you from suffering an injury. If you hear any unusual noises or feel a shift in the structure while inside, get out immediately. It's better to be safe than sorry.
The dangers from electricity
You may be grateful that the building has power, but electricity comes with its own set of dangers. You could suffer burns or even a fatal electrocution. Some of the repercussions that come with electrical equipment after a fire include the following:
- Exposed live wires
- Contact with water
- Compromised grounding
If you have any doubt about the safety of electrical devices or lines, leave the area.
The dangers of carbon monoxide
If you use diesel or gas-powered generators, pumps or pressure washers in the cleanup process, take care. Carbon monoxide could build up in the area, and you may not even know it. Gasoline-powered equipment in particular can present an unseen hazard when used indoors. Your employer should take all relevant safety precautions before allowing you into the area.
If you do suffer an injury
These are just some of the dangers involved in cleaning up after a fire. Other dangers such as hazardous materials, fire hot-spots and working in confined spaces could also threaten your well-being. Your employer is obligated to take the appropriate steps to ensure your safety during this process, but accidents can still happen.
If you do end up suffering a work-related injury, you could be out of work for a significant amount of time during your recovery. In addition, your medical needs could quickly become expensive. You retain the right to apply for workers' compensation benefits to help with these financial issues. It may benefit you to obtain some help in receiving these benefits so that you can focus on your recovery and getting your life back to normal as quickly as possible.