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Hurricane Clean Up Dangers - Play It Safe 

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Dr. Frank Counselman, Emergency Physicians of Tidewater

By Frank Counselman, MD

In Emergency Departments where I work, we often see more injuries after hurricanes than during the storms when people are hunkered down. Injuries happen when the wind and rain stop and people haul out chain saws and other heavy tools they may use only once or twice a year and start to clean up downed trees or limbs in their yards.

One potentially lethal danger is electrocution. Power lines are often tangled in the branches of downed trees. You can't always see them and if you do, it's difficult to know if they're still live. Be certain the trees and branches you are cutting are clear of power lines before you start.

We also see a lot of eye injuries during post-storm periods caused by flying wood chips and other debris. There's a good reason that safety experts recommend eye and ear protection around chain saws. They can leave your ears ringing and long-term exposure can cause hearing loss.

Kickbacks by chain saws can cause deep lacerations or even traumatic amputations. If you must use a chain saw, make sure it is in good repair, that the chain is sharpened, properly mounted and lubricated and, please, wear long pants, heavy gloves, eye and hearing protection and work boots, even if it's hot out.

More than half-a-million Americans fall off ladders every year. Injuries can range from broken bones to brain damage. If your roof has been damaged in a storm, the urge is hurry up a ladder and try to secure the house. However, a little caution and these basic safety tips can help keep you out of the hospital.

Set up a ladder only on a firm, level surface, never on soft earth.
Stay below the top rungs.
Keep extension ladders at a safe angle and use a stabilizer bar at the top.
Keep your body between the vertical rails and do not reach more than a foot to either side.
Wear sturdy shoes for firm footing.
Stay well clear of power lines to avoid electrocution.

Before you tackle a post-hurricane project at unfamiliar heights and with heavy tools, objectively assess your skills and physical limitations to be certain you are up to the task. Inventory your tools and safety gear to be certain you are properly equipped and your machinery is in good working order. Whoever came up with the phrase, “Do not try this at home,” must have been thinking of do-it-yourselfers. Some jobs are best left to professionals.

Frank Counselman, M.D. works at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital with Emergency Physicians of Tidewater and teaches at Eastern Virginia Medical School. He is a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

More Safety Information from the CDC:
Returning Home After a Disaster: Be Healthy and Safe
Safety Tips During Power Outages
Clean Up Safely

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