Safety Tips for Flood Victims: Safety Alert

CPSC Document #5035
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends several safety tips to the victims of floods. This safety alert illustrates some dangerous practices which consumers may be tempted to engage in during efforts to rebuild or while staying in temporary housing, tents or partially damaged homes. This information is provided in an effort to prevent injuries and deaths from consumer products as flood survivors make new beginnings. “We hope this information helps prevent product-related injuries and deaths during these difficult times.”

Do not use electrical appliances that have been wet.

Water can damage the motors in electrical appliances, such as furnaces, freezers, refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers.

If electrical appliances have been under water, have them dried out and reconditioned by a qualified service repairman. Do not turn on damaged electrical appliances because the electrical parts can become grounded and pose an electric shock hazard or overheat and cause a fire. Before flipping a switch or plugging in an appliance, have an electrician check the house wiring and appliance to make sure it is safe to use.

Electricity and water don’t mix.

Use a ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electric shock injuries. Portable GFCls require no tools to install and are available at prices ranging from $12 to $30.

Types of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters Include:

  • Receptacle
  • Circuit Breaker
  • Portable Plug-in
  • Portable Cord Type

When using a “wet-dry vacuum cleaner,” be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid electric shock.

Do not allow the power cord connections to become wet. Do not remove or bypass the ground pin on a three-prong plug. Use a GFCI to prevent electrocution.

Never remove or bypass the ground pin on a three-pronged plug in order to insert it into a non-grounding outlet.

Never allow the connection between the machine’s power cord and the three-wire grounded extension cord to lie in water.

To prevent a gas explosion and fire, have gas appliances (natural gas and LP gas) inspected and cleaned after flooding.

If gas appliances have been under water, have them inspected and cleaned and their gas controls replaced, if necessary. The gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber should do this work. Water can damage gas controls so that safety features are blocked, even if the gas controls appear to operate properly. If you suspect a gas leak, don’t light a match, use any electrical appliances, turn lights on or off, or use the phone. These may produce sparks. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or hear gas escaping, turn off the main valve. Open windows, leave the area immediately, and call the gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber for repairs. Never store flammable materials near any gas appliance or equipment.

Check to make sure your smoke detector is functioning.

Smoke detectors can save your life in a fire. Check the battery frequently to make sure it is operating. Fire extinguishers also are a good idea.

Candles, matches, and lighters can start fires.

Never leave a burning candle unattended because it can tip over and start a fire. Keep candles, matches, and lighters away from children at all times.

Wet carpet and other furnishings can lead to the growth of biological pollutants.

Bacteria, fungi, and dust mites can grow on wet surfaces. If furnishings have been under water, they must be thrown out or steam-cleaned and dried thoroughly.

  • Throw out water-damaged mattresses, wicker furniture, straw baskets and the like because they may contain mold. These items cannot be recovered.
  • Throw out any water-damaged furnishings such as carpets, drapes, stuffed toys, upholstered furniture and ceiling tiles, unless they can be restored by steam cleaning or hot water washing and thorough drying.
  • Remove and replace wet insulation to prevent conditions where biological pollutants can grow.

Since 1984, over 200 infants and toddlers have drowned in 5-gallon buckets.

Buckets containing even small amounts of water or other liquids can be drowning hazards. A 5 gallon bucket presents the greatest danger to a small child because it doesn’t tip over when a child leans into it. Never leave any bucket of water unattended where small children may fall in. Immediately empty out buckets when finished or move them to a safe place before taking a break. In addition, keep young children away from bathtubs and other open containers used for temporary water storage.

Burning charcoal gives off carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide has no odor and can kill you. Never burn charcoal inside homes, tents, campers, vans, cars, trucks, garages, or mobile homes.

Gasoline is made to explode!

Never use gasoline around ignition sources such as cigarettes, matches, lighters, water heaters, or electric sparks. Gasoline vapors can travel and be ignited by pilot light or other ignition sources. Make sure that gasoline powered generators are away from easily combustible materials.

Chain saws can cause serious injuries.

Chain saws can be hazardous, especially if they “kick back.” To help reduce this hazard, make sure that your chain saw is equipped with the low-kick-back chain. Look for other safety features on chain saws, including hand guard, safety tip, chain brake, vibration reduction system, spark arrestor on gasoline models, trigger or throttle lockout, chain catcher, and bumper spikes. Always wear shoes, gloves, and protective glasses On new saws. Look for certification to the ANSI B-175.1 standard.

Infants can suffocate on adult beds and other soft surfaces.

Infants have suffocated when they have been put to sleep on adult mattresses, pillows, bean-bag cushions, and other soft surfaces. Some children have suffocated when adults unintentionally lie over them while sleeping on the same bed. Other children have suffocated when plastic bags have covered their faces. A crib mattress should not be covered with a plastic garbage or laundry bag or any other thin plastic. The safest place for an infant to sleep is a crib that meets government safety standards and has a firm tight-fitting mattress.

When cleaning up from a flood, store medicines and chemicals away from young children.

Poisonings can happen when young children swallow medicines and household chemicals.

Keep household chemicals and medicines locked up away from children. Use the child resistant closures that come on most medicines and chemicals.