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Keeping healthy during disaster clean up

A tree branches and other debris cover a road after a storm in Queensland.
Following the advice from authorities during disaster clean up will help you stay safe.

Between cyclones, storms, drought, fires and floods, Queenslanders experience their fair share of natural disasters each year.

Cleaning up after a weather event is an important step towards getting back to normal life. Taking safety precautions to make sure that you stay fit and healthy while cleaning up means that you can continue to look after yourself, your loved ones and your community as best you can.

Keep emergency departments for emergencies only

During and after a natural disaster, hospitals and emergency services might be operating with limited capacity or looking after a large number of people who have been affected by the weather.

At this time, it’s especially important to only visit the emergency department at your hospital if you or someone you are caring for is seriously hurt or unwell. If your GP isn’t open, you can call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for general health advice.

Be aware of food safety

During a natural disaster, it’s possible that power will be lost or intermittent, which will impact your ability to keep food hot or cold.

If the power goes off, keep fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Refrigerated food can be kept in a closed fridge for about four hours, and already frozen food in the freezer for 24 hours. Remember that the temperature of the fridge will rise more quickly if it is a very hot day.

If you are cooking food when the power goes out and you can’t finish cooking it within two hours, it needs to be thrown out. If food is already cooked, eat it within two hours.

When it comes to food safety, always remember: if in doubt, throw it out.

Wear protective gear when cleaning up

While cleaning up homes, businesses or public spaces, wear protective footwear and gloves to avoid being cut or scraped, especially if the area has been affected by floodwaters. Treat any cuts with antiseptic and cover with a protective dressing immediately.

Never walk through floodwaters, and don’t let children play in or around stormwater drains and creeks. Try to avoid contact with mud and dirt, and wash your hands with soap and water before eating and after touching pets that might have come into contact with water or soil.

Boil water until supplies are declared safe

Boil or purify tap water for drinking and cooking until supplies are declared safe. You can also drink bottled water if you have stocked up, keeping in mind that tap water may remain unavailable or unsafe to drink for a number of days. Listen to advice from your local council about drinking water safety.

Use ladders with caution

If you are clearing debris from a roof or fixing damage, be extra careful with ladders and heights.

Always use ladders as specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. Watch out for powerlines when using ladders, and be aware that powerlines might have fallen. Never touch or attempt to move fallen powerlines.

Protect yourself from mosquito borne diseases

Mosquitoes carrying diseases will be more common after a natural disaster if there has been a lot of rain or water lying on the ground.

Protect yourself from bites by using insect repellent, wear long and loose clothing that is light in colour and use mosquito nets if possible when sleeping in a house where windows or screens have been damaged.

Be aware of dangerous animals

Animals are also affected by wild weather. When cleaning inside and outside, keep in mind that during wild weather some of Queensland’s more dangerous creatures could have moved to escape floodwaters or fire.

Keep generators well ventilated

Petrol powered generators or pumps release carbon monoxide. This equipment needs to be kept in a well-ventilated area when operating to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Keep informed

If the power goes out, you can listen to the ABC local radio for up to date information.

You can find more information about cleaning up after a natural disaster, including fact sheets in languages other than English, on the Queensland Government website.

Last updated: 29 March 2017