Health & Safety Risks

FEMA Photo

Assessing Potential Hazards

Before re-entering your studio or its environs, evaluate these basic concerns:

1. Should I go there?

  • Do not enter areas or buildings that have been designated off-limits by emergency authorities.

  • Do not endanger your own, your family’s or your helpers’ health or safety.

  • Do not enter if you’re not up-to-date with tetanus shots.

Note: People with medical conditions — especially respiratory problems or impaired immunity — that could be aggravated by exposure to smoke, soot, ash, or mold or extreme temperatures/high humidity should not participate in cleanup operations.

2. What are the risks to health and safety?

  • Is the site structurally sound?

  • What are the types of hazardous materials and conditions (explosive, nuclear, biological, or chemical contamination) that I could encounter either from the disaster or from substances in the studio?

  • Consult local emergency authorities about possible contamination risks.

  • Do I (and others helping) have the right protective gear to prevent exposure to contamination or dangerous substances?


Staying Safe During Cleanup Operations

1. Do:

  • Wear protective gear at all times.

  • Carry a communication device (walkie-talkie or cellphone).

  • Look for electrical system damage, and turn off the electricity at the main switch if you

  • can do this without risk (otherwise, call the power company or an electrician).

  • Carry a stick to lift debris (after a flood, snakes and other animals may be hiding).

  • Check for possible gas leaks; if you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing sounds, open a window and leave the building immediately.  Turn off the main gas valve from the outside, if you can do this safely, or call the gas company.  [Note:  after the main valve has been turned off, you will need to have the gas company turn it back on].

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to heat and high humidity.

  • Drink plenty of water — at least a gallon per person per day — and take frequent breaks.

  • Set up a rest area, with a first-aid station (including eyewash kits), sanitary supplies, and drinking water and cups.

  • If health problems develop, stop work and immediately seek medical attention.

  • Keep tuned to emergency radio stations for updates.

2. Don’t:

  • Don’t enter or work alone.

  • Don’t work in spaces with mold outbreak unless you know the type of mold — and have proper protection.

  • Don’t use gas-powered generators indoors.

Hazardous Materials and Conditions

Downed power lines and trees
Chemical contamination
(fuel oil, asbestos, toxic gas)
Displaced animals, rodents, insects
Unstable ground

FEMA Photo

Interior: building hazards
Lead paint
Toxic metals (chromium and lead)
Fuel oil
Electrical system damage (sparks, frayed wires)
Gas leaks or explosion
Unstable floors
Fixtures/objects that may fall




Interior: general
Smoldering or new fire
Contaminated water
Smoke and/or soot (may contain arsenic)   
Mud (slippery and contaminated)
Pests, dead and alive
Garbage and raw sewage

Interior: art material hazards
Toxic pigments
Spilled solvents
Acetylene tanks
Broken glass and pottery
Sharp tools


Artist-to-Artist Video

A Flood is Toxic

Iowa furniture maker Russell Karkowski talks about recovering from a flood.

To learn more:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Fact sheets on “Natural Disaster Recovery: Clean-up Hazards” and “Natural Disaster Recovery: Flood Cleanup”

Center for Disease Control. “Cleanup Safely after a Disaster” and “Worker Safety During Fire Cleanup,” articles at