Safety and first aid

Hazards after cyclones, floods and other disasters

Asbestos contamination

Natural disasters often bring serious concerns for home-owners dealing with asbestos exposure.

Asbestos-containing materials pose generally no threat when in good condition, painted or sealed, and in a bonded form, but become dangerous when broken or shattered into pieces.

Asbestos-containing materials may include:

  • roofing, shingles and siding
  • fencing
  • exterior wall cladding
  • backing material on floor tiles and vinyl flooring
  • textured paints
  • water or flue pipes
  • insulation material or lagging.

Any of these materials produced before 1986 may potentially contain asbestos. If you are in doubt, manage them as if they are asbestos.

If a home, structure or building is already damaged due to flooding or a cyclone, the site should be secured and contained.

For safety reasons, hire a licensed asbestos contractor (external site) to remove any materials that contain asbestos. However, some homeowners may choose to do part of the clean-up themselves, but this comes with great risk and is not advisable, especially if the material is in poor condition or fibrous.

Mosquitoes

Stagnant water left behind by floods and rain provides an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes.

large tub filled with water

This increases the risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as Ross River virus (RRV) and Barmah Forest virus (BFV). In the north of Western Australia there is also the potential for the rare, but potentially fatal, Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE).

Mosquito breeding may occur over vast areas after flooding.

You can make a difference by preventing mosquitoes breeding around your home.

Poisons, chemicals and pesticides

The floods may have buried, moved or damaged goods including:

  • gas cylinders
  • containers of corrosives
  • oils
  • pesticides
  • pool chemicals
  • industrial chemicals.

Extreme care must be taken when handling any spills or containers of suspected:

  • poisons
  • chemicals
  • pesticides.

This is especially relevant if the containers are damaged.

Spills or containers of these goods should be isolated until safe management has been arranged.

To safely handle and dispose of such dangerous goods:

  • monitor atmospheres with an air monitoring device, such as a gas detector, in enclosed spaces where plant and equipment exhaust is generated
  • ensure exhaust gases are ventilated to prevent the build-up of contaminant exhaust gases such as carbon monoxide.

Reduce the risk by operating generators and other fuel-powered equipment outdoors wherever possible.

For example, pumps used for removing water from a basement should be placed in external well-ventilated areas

Try to identify chemicals and their hazards using labels and markings. If the label has been removed, seek expert advice and chemical identification from a waste management consultant

Wear personal protective equipment such as:

  • chemical resistant gloves
  • protective eyewear
  • enclosed footwear
  • long sleeved shirts
  • trousers.

If there is a chemical odour present, wear a respirator with the correct chemically rated filter.

General tips for dealing with poisons, chemicals and pesticides

  • Ensure that when handling drums, you work up-wind.
  • Separate chemicals from general waste.
  • Contact your local council for advice regarding the disposal of dangerous goods and chemicals.
  • Separate chemicals based on the condition of the container – damaged or undamaged. Consider whether they might chemically react with each other. For example, oils and dry pool chlorine may cause a fire if brought together.
  • Take precautions to protect the area from further damage during the clean-up. This includes preventing mobile plant (for example earth-moving equipment) coming into contact with containers, particularly gas cylinders.
  • Chemical processing and handling equipment affected by the flood should be checked prior to operation.
  • Electrical installations must be checked by a qualified electrician.
  • Contact your supplier regarding the safe return to operation for gas supply systems, for example town gas or fixed tank installations.
  • Ensure the appropriate decontamination of clothing and equipment after handling or coming in contact with chemicals. Wash down clothing with water and launder separately.

Damaged containers and spillage

4 blue containersIf there is damage to containers resulting in a leak or spill:

  • Contact the local fire services branch and any other relevant authority for expert assistance.
  • Cordon off the area
  • Do not wash spillage down drains
  • If safe to do so, prevent spread of spilled material by using sand, earth or other commercial spill-containing products.
  • Minimise the potential for presence of an ignition point or flame in case the chemical is flammable. 
Snakes, rodents and other wildlife

Snakes

Like residents, snakes can become displaced during a flood. As a result, they may seek shelter and food inside houses, storage sheds and other buildings.

Damaged structures and debris are more accessible to snakes.

When outdoors

  • Wear sturdy work boots and gloves, and long trousers to protect your legs.
  • Watch where you place your hands and feet when removing or cleaning up debris.
  • If you see a snake, step back from it slowly and allow it to proceed on its way – do not touch it.
  • Remove debris from around your home as soon as practically possible as it can attract rodents, lizards and insects on which snakes feed.

Be aware of snakes that may be swimming in the water trying to get to higher ground.

They may also swim towards a boat and attempt to gain entry.

They should be warded off with an oar or other long stake.

When indoors

If you find a snake in your house do not panic:

  • seek advice from someone who knows how to safely remove the snake
  • contact the Department of Environment and Conservation for names of the nearest licensed snake catcher.

If you are bitten by a snake you should seek medical treatment immediately.

Spiders

If bitten by a red back spider:

  • Wash the affected area well and soothe the pain with ice packs or clean iced water.
  • Do not apply pressure – this is not recommended for red back spider bites and often worsens the pain.
  • Seek immediate medical help.

For other spider bites:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold pack if the bite is painful.

For most spider bites, no other first aid is necessary. Contact your doctor if symptoms develop or persist

If possible and safe to do so, the spider should be caught for positive identification.

Read more on first aid for bites and stings.

Rodents

Rodents carry disease and are a nuisance.

To discourage rodents:

  • Remove food sources and items that can provide shelter for rodents.
  • Wash dishes and cooking utensils immediately after use.
  • Dispose of garbage and debris as soon as practically possible.
  • Lay rodent baits or traps.

Flies

Flies also carry disease and are a nuisance. To discourage flies:

  • Do not let food and garbage build up as this becomes a breeding ground for flies.
  • Clean up food wastes as soon as possible.

More information


Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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