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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Practice proper safety techniques during storm cleanup

STILLWATER, Okla. – Storm season is in full swing, with tornadoes and windy thunderstorms leaving trails of debris in their wakes, debris that may be heavy, bulky or even ripe with bacteria, which can lead to potential health problems.
Practice proper safety techniques during storm cleanup

Tornado damage can be heartbreaking enough; don't add to it by failing to use proper safety protocols during cleanup. (Open-access file photo)

“The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service has a long history of helping recovery efforts at ground zero, and one of the first things we make sure people know is that anyone handling storm debris should wear heavy work gloves, eye protection, thick-soled shoes and cover their arms and legs to help reduce the incidence of cuts and scratches from sharp objects,” said Kyle Worthington, Canadian County Extension director and agricultural educator.

The primary reason for the recommendation is straightforward. Spoiled food, decaying debris and perhaps even dead animals all contribute bacteria that could infect cuts and scratches. If cuts or scratches occur, apply first-aid methods immediately: clean the wound and treat it with an antibiotic product, if applicable and available.

“We always stress it is a good idea to check with a health care professional regarding the need for tetanus, hepatitis or other appropriate immunizations as soon as possible if you are cut,” Worthington said.

Zack Meyer, Kingfisher County Extension director and agricultural educator, said people should essentially practice the Boy Scouts of America motto: Be prepared.

“Power and water may be off,” he said. “Be sure to take wet-wipes or antibacterial soaps that do not require water with you prior to moving or searching through debris.”

Meyer cautioned people also need to be careful how they package debris.

“Check with the appropriate agency that will handle trash pick-up as to how materials should be packaged and labeled,” Meyer said.

Sharp or pointed objects generally should be placed in trash cans or some type of large, solid container, with the containers then being marked with descriptive labels.

“Most of the material will be picked up at curbside,” Meyer said. “However, it's best to check with the removal agency as to where they want packaged debris located. There may be differences depending on the type of debris in question.”

In addition, good body mechanics are a must. The removal of debris often is labor intensive and may require greater effort and use of muscle than many people are used to employing.

“It may sound foolish but there is always somebody who tries to lift too much, or bend over and lift when they should squat, grab and let their legs provide the muscle power,” Worthington said. “They wind up hurting themselves.”

Other recommendations include taking frequent rest breaks and drinking plenty of water to replace bodily fluids lost through sweat.

“The concept that your body will tell you when you need to stop and rest is sound advice,” Worthington said. “Take it. Pay attention to what your body is saying.”

People who suffer from a chronic illness or health problem should check with their personal physicians before engaging in strenuous activity.

“If you can't be a part of the physical clean-up, volunteer your time at local shelters to help coordinate needed services for victims,” Meyer said. “There is always something helpful you can do.”

Worthington added Canadian County has an emergency management director that coordinates with local and county law enforcement to secure areas sustaining excessive storm damage from tornadoes and straight line winds.

“He also contacts FEMA, Red Cross and other state agencies that come into Canadian County following excessive storm damage, which he did after the devastating 2010 tornado and the massive ice storm damage two years ago when so much of the county lost electricity for an extended amount of time,” Worthington said.

Most counties have a county employee designated as their emergency management contact and all typically work closely with Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension offices across the state.

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is one of two state agencies administered by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and one of the three equal parts comprising the university’s state and federally mandated teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.

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