Health and Safety Issues in Natural Disasters

Disasters can happen anywhere, at any time, often with little to no warning. As specialists in the field of industrial hygiene and safety, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) experts have developed and identified these resources to enable recovery efforts while minimizing potential exposures to hazardous materials and conditions.
These resources are not designed for first responders or those industrial hygienists (IHs) involved in emergency planning or the immediate response phase of a given disaster.  For industrial hygienists, AIHA has developed a number of technical resources for the IH’s role and responsibilities in both emergency preparedness and the incident command system (see the links to the right of this page).
 
AIHA strongly encourages IHs and business owners to prepare and plan prior to disasters and to work closely with local emergency operations both before and after disasters strike. 
 
The intention of this collection of resources is to help guide consumers and IHs through the seemingly endless maze of government agencies and private industry references addressing potential hazards that may be encountered after a disaster occurs.   The identified resources provide general guidance on the hazards that may be encountered after a disaster.  The majority of health consequences for major weather-related disasters are for injuries associated with evacuation and clean-up, carbon monoxide poisoning (related to the indoor use of gasoline-powered generators), hypothermia, electrocution, wound infections, respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, hypothermia, and exacerbation of chronic illnesses.  Wildfires are associated with significant increases of hospital admissions for respiratory distress, asthma, and shortness of breath.  
 
It is important to understand that anyone who ventures into these areas is potentially at risk for exposure to hazards not covered in detail in this document.  Even some trained responders to Hurricane Katrina experienced symptoms from mold exposure and sinus infection, carbon monoxide and confusion, lack of sleep, slips and falls, and depression. Therefore, many recovery efforts should be handled with professional assistance, particularly when they pose significant risk. Understanding the hazards associated with a disaster enables specially trained IHs to assess the risk, develop, and implement controls, and to reevaluate residual risk as recovery operations continue. 
AIHA strongly recommends that the clean-up of hazardous materials be performed or overseen by professionals knowledgable of the hazards and methods to protect occupants and the environment. AIHA members consist of health and safety professionals dedicated to protecting worker and public health. To reach out to AIHA safety and health consultants for professional assistance beyond these guidelines, a consultant list is available
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