Numerous hazards may be present throughout the wildfire cleanup process. Prior to beginning the work, certain considerations in addition to the fire damage are necessary to accurately assess all potential hazards.
Proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the aftermath of a wildfire is a critical component in the safe cleanup of fire debris. Selection of PPE depends on both anticipated hazards and the tasks to be performed.
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Numerous hazards may be present throughout the cleanup process. Prior to beginning the work, certain considerations in addition to the fire damage are necessary to accurately assess all potential hazards.
The age of the home may suggest the potential for lead, asbestos or PCB exposures. Homes built prior to 1980 commonly used lead-based paint coatings, asbestos-containing insulation and fireproofing and PCB containing caulks. Other hazardous materials, such as bulk pesticides, paints and fuels (e.g. gasoline, propane) are common in residential areas.
Inhalation and skin contact with mold and mold spores is also a potential hazard during cleanup and restoration phases. In water-damaged homes, mold growth can occur within 48 hours depending on environmental conditions. Jute backed carpets, vinyl wall covering, drywall and wood products are particularly susceptible.
- Inhalation, eye and skin contact with:
- Ash, soot and demolition dusts containing hazardous materials.
- Cleaners and disinfectants used during cleaning and restoration.
- Various nuisance dusts, paint/adhesive vapors, etc. throughout the reconstruction.
- Operation of carbon monoxide producing equipment (e.g. pumps, generators, pressure washers) in poorly ventilated or confined areas.
- Electrical hazards from downed power lines or water damaged equipment and building electrical systems.
- Ergonomic hazards from repeated lifting, twisting, working on irregular, uneven surfaces.
- Engulfment and atmospheric hazards in open excavation, trenches, and pits.
- Heat stress and cold stress due to work outdoors.
- Fall hazards due to working at elevated heights.
- Slips and trips due to work around unstable, wet and slippery surfaces, uneven terrain and steep grades.
Use of properly qualified contractors to handle and remove materials that contain asbestos, lead, PCBs, large amounts of mold or other hazardous substances is necessary in order to minimize health risks and ensure proper disposal.
For professional or hired cleanup workers, respirators must be used in accordance with OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard 29 CFR 1910.134. Mandatory use of respirators requires a respiratory program be established by the employer. Program elements include: selection, employee training, fit testing, medical evaluations, maintenance and inspection, and recordkeeping.
Protective measures to address recognized hazards include both safe work practices and proper use of PPE. Safe work practices are methods outlining how to perform a task with minimum risk to people and equipment. Safety professionals, government pamphlets and equipment manufacturer's user instructions are sources of information on safe work practices. The following describes the types of PPE that are available and their application to wildfire cleanup.
Read the 3M Technical Data Bulletin for 3M suggested products
PPE That Can Help During Wildfire Cleanup*
* It is always the user's responsibility to evaluate PPE needs and to select a proper product for the intended use. Additional or alternative 3M products may be available in addition to those listed.