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Hazards faced by cleanup workers after California wildfires

On Behalf of | Aug 25, 2021 | Workers' Compensation |

Cleaning up where wildfires ravaged through towns, destroying buildings and other structures, could be life-threatening. Smoldering wood and debris could reignite in the blink of an eye with even the slightest flammable material contact. If you are part of a cleanup crew in San Diego or elsewhere in California, you might want to ensure you are aware of potential dangers and how to mitigate them. 

Your employer must provide the necessary safety training and protection for crews cleaning up damaged structures and demolition sites. You have the right to protection from the following: 

  • Flare-up fires — You must have fire extinguishers handy when you enter fire-damaged structures. 
  • Toxic hazards — Respirators are a requirement when working in enclosed spaces where flammable, asphyxiating and toxic vapors and gases may persist. 
  • Electrocution risks — Power can come back on unexpectedly after an outage, and it is crucial to regard all electrical sources as energized. Do not work near downed overhead power lines if you are not a qualified electrical worker. 

Fire-damaged structures 

Even when structures seem stable, exposure to the fire would have weakened them. Your employer must ensure the following precautions are in place: 

  • A qualified person like a registered engineer must examine the extent of the fire damage. 
  • Workers may only enter once the inspector certifies the stability of the structure. 
  • Always assume that roofs, elevated floors and stairs are unsafe after fire damage. 
  • Never hesitate to vacate structures that shift or if you hear telltale noises indicating impending collapse. 

Demolition 

Dismantling or demolition of structures or buildings is highly hazardous, and workers should not proceed before obtaining a written survey of the structure’s condition. Be cautious of the following: 

  • Fire-damaged buildings and structures could collapse without warning. 
  • Falling objects can damage utilities and containers holding hazardous materials. 
  • Your employer must eliminate hazards involving tanks, pipes and other equipment containing hazardous chemicals, flammable materials, explosives, gases or other dangerous substances before demolition begins. 
  • Local utility companies must shut services off or control them appropriately if electricity and water are necessary for the demolition project. 

Flying or sharp objects 

If your job involves breaking, cutting or another method of handling debris, beware of sharp or flying objects. Similarly, look out for other hazards that could cause lacerations or other injuries. Be sure to wear personal protective equipment that includes non-slip boots, gloves and eye protection. 

If you do fall victim to work-related injuries while cleaning up after wildfires, the California workers’ compensation insurance program will likely have your back. Report the injuries to your employer as soon as possible after receiving the necessary medical care. That could set the wheels rolling for the benefits claims process in pursuit of compensation to cover medical expenses and lost wages. 

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