It is the responsibility of all professional restoration technicians to promote safety on the job site: for themselves, and for all coworkers, subcontractors, insureds, and insurance company representatives. Although compliance with OSHA, EPA and other local, state and federal regulations relating to job safety is the responsibility of each restoration service owner or manager, ultimately, it is the individual technician who implements these safety programs and standards. Safety begins with common sense: simply refusing to allow unsafe work practices. Common sense is supplemented with the use of protective procedures and devices that are required by regulatory agencies and by company policy.
Bottom line: safety, both in plant and on the job site, is everyone’s responsibility. No professional restorer ever knowingly engages in unsafe work practices.
Basic Safety Equipment
The following list of basic safety equipment is required at each job site. The term “basic” is used to emphasize that this list is not complete. Different disasters dictate the need for additional safety equipment from time to time, in order to comply with OSHA and common sense requirements.
- Fire Extinguisher
- Basic First Aid Kit
- Chemical Resistant Gloves - These are to be worn while handling, mixing or using any highly caustic or corrosive material. Additionally, skin protection is required when handling potentially infectious materials on trauma claims.
- Splash Goggles - These are to be worn when mixing concentrates of highly caustic or corrosive materials with water. Your eyes are too valuable to risk even the remotest of accidental exposure in this area. Additionally, wear goggles when working trauma claims with potentially infectious materials that might use the eyes as a route of entry into the body. Finally, wear goggles when cleaning ceilings, ductwork or any other component where fallout of particles may cause discomfort or damage to technicians’ eyes.
- Respirator – Before respirators are used, there is a requirement for medical evaluation and fit testing. Wear an appropriate particle respirator when entering and working in structures where there is a quantity of soot residue, particularly since the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which may be present on fire scenes with heavy residue, are suspect carcinogens. Equally important is the need to protect your respiratory system using an organic vapor or acid gas respirator when using dry solvents (cleaning, fogging) in the course of restoration work. Certainly respirators are required when working water damage claims with heavy mold growth, and they may be required when working trauma claims with potentially infectious materials present.
- Hard Hat - This is designed to protect technicians from falling structural components when working on restoration jobs where there is considerable structural damage, or on which substantial structural repair is being accomplished.
- Boots with Steel Shank - Foot protection is always necessary when walking around the disaster scene. Puncture resistant boots can avoid many potential injuries.
- Wet Weather Gear - Nothing is more uncomfortable than having to work a disaster claim in wet clothes. Wet weather gear is extremely important in cold, wet weather when move-outs are required and when processing water damaged goods.
- HEPA Air Filtration Unit - This is a high-capacity, all-purpose high efficiency particle attracting (HEPA) filtration system designed to clear the air of smoke particles, fungus spores, dust and pollen (removes 99.97% of particles at 0.3 microns in size). It also removes particles that result from grinding, sanding, scraping and other reconstruction or renovation activities. When equipped with an activated charcoal filter, the filtration unit removes residual odors and vapors from paints, varnishes and other chemicals. An 1800 cfm unit can filter the air in areas used by technicians and insureds up to 1,000 square feet every 6.5 minutes, providing a healthier atmosphere for those who may experience prolonged exposure to products of incomplete combustion (PIC) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) contaminants. This unit is part of a comprehensive air duct cleaning system and may be run continuously in work areas for air filtration only.
As a minimum, each vehicle that carries personnel, equipment and supplies should have:
- Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) - All restoration chemicals have MSDSs that clearly define products from a safety standpoint. Bind MSDSs for product lines in booklet form and list them alphabetically for your convenience in locating and understanding spill control, safety, first aid and other procedures. MSDSs are required on the job site (in the van) wherever these chemicals are being used. In addition, each chemical purchased outside normal restoration product lines must be accompanied with an appropriate MSDS, and that sheet must be available on individual job sites where these chemicals are being used. Request help from supervisors or managers if updated MSDSs are needed.
- Warning Signs - Post signs that warn insureds, or anyone else, of safety hazards on the job site whenever those hazards are identified. Consider one of three types available for your use:
Post “Do Not Enter - Structure Unsafe” whenever there is substantial structural damage resulting from fire or from water damage. It’s also useful in keeping out curious persons (neighbors, friends of insureds) who might unwittingly cause more damage by tracking on, or touching delicate furnishings.
- Post “Caution: Wet Surfaces” wherever slipping or tripping hazards associated with water damage exist.
- Post “Electronic Deodorization in Progress - Do Not Enter” on each entrance to a structure where ozone units are left unattended.
- Biological Hazard - On certain trauma claims and possibly, even on specific sewer back-flow claims, it may be necessary to label contaminated items that are disposed of as biological hazards. This probably is a rare occurrence nevertheless, technicians must be aware of it.
Periodic formal training programs are used to update and reinforce safety policies and standards. Further, all technical training undertaken by your company should emphasize safety in all aspects of cleaning and restoration work. However, since new employees are constantly being brought onto job sites (not to mention insureds, neighbors and friends, and even insurance adjusters), each professional restoration technician must assume responsibility for implementing safety policies, and they must assist with on-the-job-training in safety related procedures.
Of course, with the implementation of OSHA requirements for training on General Safety, Chemical Handling, Bloodborne Pathogens and avoidance of PIC and PAH contaminants, training must be an on-going effort in every professional restoration firm.