Returning to Workplace in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina that struck South Eastern Coast of the United States is considered to be one of the biggest natural disasters in recent history.  The city of New Orleans, which is rich in cultural and musical tradition, has been devastated beyond recognition during the violent unleashing of the storm.  Hence, as the Industrial Hygienist designated with the job of reverting the hospital to usable standards, my task is quite challenging.  But meeting this challenge head-on, I would implement various plans of action for my team based on theoretical knowledge and practical experience that I had gained in my career as an Industrial Hygienist.

My primary concern as an Industrial Hygienist deputed to clean up the hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina would be to prevent or control the spread of infectious diseases such as diarrhea, flu, cold and TB.  Because as evidence from similar natural catastrophes suggests, the people returning to New Orleans are likely to suffer from these diseases in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.  Gastroenteritis is also likely to be prevalent.  Hence I would order my team and also avail of services from other disaster relief personnel and design an basic hygiene awareness program for the hospital.  For example, proper hand-washing techniques will be demonstrated to all concerned.  Along with practical demonstrations, I would make posters, fliers and email postings to reiterate the proper technique of hand washing.  I would place bottles of Gel hand sanitizers at important access points within the hospital.  Other infectious diseases that I would try to prevent or control include rashes and skin infections.  Once any of these diseases is identified in the surrounding population, it is imperative that diseased individuals are separated from the crowd so as to stop further spread.  All the beds and chairs within the hospital will be scanned for fomites.  It is advisable to remove soiled cots, mattresses and bed spreads from the premises. (Chew, et. al, 2006)

I would also be concerned about the mold and endotoxin levels in the hospital environment.  I will involve the two technicians in my team to bring samples and perform tests for ascertaining mold and endotoxin levels.  It is imperative that they wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as respirators.  The advice would be to wear elastomeric respirators.  Alongside mold and endotoxin level measurement, I would implement the process of deconstruction, which entails removal of soiled and muddied carpets, removal of insulation, dismantling of lower cabinets in each room. (Chew, et. Al, 2006)  It would be prudent on my part to keep in mind the following words of advice from a fellow Industrial Hygienist:

 “Using a variety of sampling and analytical methods, one can observe airborne levels of mold and endotoxin, which often increased orders of magnitude during the intervention, and determined that workplace protection factors of some respirators can be suboptimal in such conditions. Although the generally accepted mold remediation protocols reduces bioaerosols in the particular environment, myriad issues including the qualifications of those performing the work (including homeowners), depth and duration of flooding, and the availability of electricity and supplies can affect the feasibility and ultimately the success of flood cleanup efforts”. (Chew, et. Al, 2006)

Here are some of other important PPE that I want my team to wear, starting with “electrically insulated, watertight boots with steel shank, toe and insole; Heavy, waterproof, cut-resistant work gloves; and Goggles, safety glasses with sideshields or full faceshields” (Elledge, et. al, 2007). A few other types of protective gloves might become necessary when dealing with hazardous substances.  Wearing a soft or ANSI-approved hardhat may become important if there is any risk of falling debris in the hospital premises. I would not underestimate the importance of wearing “comfortable, form-fitting, lightweight clothing including long pants and long-sleeved shirt or coveralls” (Elledge, et. al, 2007).  Under certain environmental conditions wearing NIOSH-approved respirators will be recommended.

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