Safety after the storm

After a hurricane or storm passes, be sure to protect yourself and your loved ones from potential dangers.

A portable generator can be a lifesaver after a storm knocks out your electricity, but it also poses the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, when not used correctly.

Carbon monoxide is often called the silent killer because it's colorless, odorless and tasteless.

"While generators are a necessity for families and businesses without power during this time, generators should never be used inside your home, building or garage, as exhaust cannot be ventilated safely, even if windows and doors are open" said Dr. Jeffrey Carter, Medical Director of the Burn Center at University Medical Center New Orleans.

"A generator should only be used outside of a home, and should be placed at least 20 feet away from any door, window or overhang of a building…..and always let them cool before you refuel," Dr. Carter added.

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, seizure, loss of consciousness and that can lead to death.

“If you notice someone with these “flu-like” symptoms and no fever, it is a high probability they are developing carbon monoxide poisoning.” said Dr. Jeffrey Elder, Medical Director for Emergency Management at University Medical Center .

“If a person develops symptoms consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning, evacuate the area immediately and call 911”, Dr. Elder added.

Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning reduces the risk of permanent brain or heart injury, but patients may still suffer disability.

Follow these guidelines to protect yourself following a storm

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Do not use a portable generator, charcoal grill, camp stove and/or other gasoline and charcoal burning device in any enclosed or partially enclosed area – even if the area has ventilation.
  • Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide from building up in the home. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator or other gasoline/ charcoal burning device, get to fresh air right away. Seek prompt medical care

Beware of electrical and fire hazards:

  • Never touch any building, car or other structure which has a fallen power line touching it.
  • Avoid contact with overhead power lines during cleanup and other activities.
  • Do not burn candles near flammable items or leave candles unattended. If possible, use flashlights or other battery-operated lights instead of candles.
  • Call a professional electrician or power company to report a down power line or power outage.

Protect yourself from gas leaks:

  • Avoid using flames or sparking devices until you are sure there is no natural gas leaking in the area.
  • Natural gas leaks are the top cause of fires after a disaster. That is why you never turn gas back on by yourself. Contact your local utility company for a trained professional to restore your gas service.

Use chain saws safely:

  • Wear protective gear, including a helmet system (consisting of head, face and hearing protection). You also need cotton or leather gloves, chain saw protective chaps, and boots with steel toes.
  • Read your owner’s manual concerning kickback danger of the chain saw in order to reduce your risk of injury.
  • Remember always to hold the chain saw firmly with both hands and do not over-reach or cut above shoulder height.
  • Follow sharpening and maintenance instructions for the chain saw and only fill a gas-powered chain saw when the engine is cool.
  • If the saw runs out of gas, let it cool 30 minutes before refueling.

Wear protective clothing, sturdy shoes and gloves.

  • When working, wear a hard hat, goggles, heavy work gloves and watertight boots with steel toes and insoles (not just steel shanks).
  • Protective clothing is especially important when handling chainsaws and other large pieces of equipment used in clearing debris.

Pace yourself and get support.

  • Watch for signs of physical and emotional exhaustion or strain.
  • Learn to recognize and deal with stress.
  • Set priorities for clean-up tasks and pace the work.
  • Try not to work alone. Ask family members, friends or professionals for support.

Prevent musculoskeletal injuries.

  • Use teams of two or more people to move bulky objects.
  • Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).
  • When lifting heavy debris, bend your knees and lift with your legs — not your back.

Wear sunscreen.

  • When working outside for extended periods of time, wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 to avoid sunburns.

Treat wounds.

  • If you get a scratch, cut or brush burn from flood debris, clean it with soap and clean water.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment. Seek medical attention immediately if a wound swells or drains and if you have not had a tetanus booster in the last few years.