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What PPE Works Best for Wildfire Debris Cleanup?

Megafires are ravaging the US, as well as Artic Canada, the Amazonian forest and other parts of the world.

Without any doubt, first responder PPE plays a key role in keeping people safe, yet personal protection in the aftermath of a wildfire is as important as the one used to fight fires.

Here’s the PPE needed to protect people cleaning up after wildfires.

PPE to match the task

Cleaning up acres of ash and charred debris left after a ravaging fire is a tedious, costly and health endangering process. Left unaddressed, the ruins of burnt homes, littered with materials like asbestos, plastics and pesticide leave their mark on the environment, as well as on rescuers’ health.

As with any other type of equipment, it’s important to select head-to-toe protection based on the situation and work to be done. OSHA’s Cleanup and recovery PPE Matrix highlights the PPE required for specific conditions. You can find it, here.

Head, eye and face protection

Entering a damaged structure exposes workers to a variety of risks including flying or falling objects. Therefore, hard hats are important and should be lightweight, comfortable and with quality suspension.

Working in a dirty, damaged structure makes dust and soot to become airborne. That’s why sealed eyewear is great for protection against airborne debris, as well as from impact and other extreme weather conditions.

Sealed eyewear models with extended wraparound frames improve protection and peripheral vision. Flexible width sizes, an adjustable nose bridge, and ratcheting temple hinges that enable the wearer to customize the fit and lens angle increase comfort. And anti-fog lenses help preserve vision when exertion, heat, and humidity are present.

Demolition or cleanup work involving steel cutting and concrete sawing increases the risk of eye injury from flying particles or hot liquid droplets. In these environments, workers need protection in the form of full face visors. Heavy mechanical work requires polycarbonate visors, while chemical contact requires acetate or propionate visors. Polycarbonate visors are best suitable for electrical work, while welding tasks should be performed with polycarbonate visor with an Infrared (IR/UV) level 3.0 or 5.0 lens.

Respiratory protection

Various gasses, toxic chemicals, fumes, and particles can remain airborne long after a catastrophic event has passed or a structural fire is extinguished. Teams working on clean-up, refurbishment, and construction teams need to wear respiratory protection to fend these off.

Especially if dealing with older US homes, built before the 80’s, which used lead-based paint costings, fireproofing and insulation containing asbestos and PCB with caulks or other health hazardous materials.

Asbestos and silica are leading respiratory hazards, that’s why respiratory protection is vital when drilling, painting, and cutting concrete or working with sand and concrete. Single use, re-usable face masks, half-face or full-face respirators or ventilated hoods are great options to prevent dust inhalation.

Where mold is known to be or potentially may be present, it’s best to use a NIOSH approved respirator. See the OSHA fact sheet on Mold Hazards during Disaster Cleanup (OSHA FS-3713) for further guidance.

Electrical PPE

After an outage, electrical injuries are prone to happen as powerlines are re-energized and electrical equipment is back on. Taking safety precautions such as avoiding downed power lines, electrical circuits near water and thick smoke are mandatory. Compliant PPE, such as rubber gloves and dielectric overshoes are recommended for any electrical work.

Foot Protection

Disaster cleanup sites have rough and uneven surfaces, that might be muddy or slick with water, chemicals and other liquids. Entering such an area, especially if poor lit, where the walking surface is not visible, exposes hazmat teams to slips, trips and falls.

That’s why electrically-insulated, watertight boots with steel shank, toe, and insole are the safest option for this setting.

Hand Protection

In dry conditions, for offering first aid assistance, disposable nitrile gloves are good enough. But for better protection, you should opt for waterproof, cut-resistant gloves. When it comes to inhalation and skin contact with mold, longer hand gloves are recommended, from materials that suit the type of materials handled.

Lastly, remember a few things:

1.     To ensure a safe cleanup, PPE must be used according to safe work practices.  All individuals participating in cleanup efforts must review user instructions and understand the limitations of PPE.

2.       Proper sanitation and hygiene are essential to limiting the spread of disease and contaminants. Decontamination zones to suit up and suit off are helpful to prevent ash from getting in cars and in homes.

3.       Oversight is important to make sure operations are safe and compliant with industry standards.

No matter what cleanup hazards your workers face, Honeywell has the personal protective equipment to keep them safe. We offer a comprehensive range of comfortable, high-performance products — along with specialized knowledge in worker safety — to help you create a safer, more productive workforce. 

Discover more information Honeywell product recommendations for wildfire cleanup, here.