Hand Hygiene and Protective Gloves
in Hurricane-Affected Areas
Flood environments present many health and safety challenges for rescue
workers, emergency responders and clean-up crews. Preventing or minimizing
disease exposure when working in contaminated flood waters is possible by
taking various precautions, specifically with proper hand hygiene and the use
of protective gloves.
Minimizing Disease Exposure When
Working in Contaminated Flood Water
After an emergency, it is often difficult to
find running water. Still, it is imperative
to wash your hands with soap and clean (or
disinfected) water to avoid illness.
Before working in flooded environments,
assemble adequate supplies of the following
- Clean water, disposable latex or nitrile
gloves; hand lotion
- Household bleach; rubbing alcohol (or
- Spray bottles
Wash hands with soap and clean (or disinfected)
water before preparing or eating
food; after toilet use; after participating in
decontamination and other cleanup activities;
and after handling articles contaminated
with floodwater or sewage.
- If clean water is not available, contaminated
water can be bleach-disinfected by
mixing 1/4 teaspoons of household bleach
per 1 gallon of water and let stand for 30
- Label containers (e.g., "Bleach-disinfected
water -- do not drink").
- If clean water is available, follow these
- Place hands under running water pointed
- Rub hands together (with soap if available)
and wash all surfaces well, including
- After rinsing thoroughly, dry hands completely
with a clean towel.
If water is not available, use alcohol-based
products made for washing hands.
- Use a solution of 70% (v/v) rubbing (isopropyl)
alcohol (~3 quarts rubbing alcohol,
and ~1 quart water).
- Using a sprayer, cover all surfaces well,
including wrists, palms, backs of hands,
fingers and under fingernails. Rub gently
and allow to air dry.
- Alcohol-based towelettes or hand rubs
significantly reduce the number of germs
on skin (The Association for Professionals
in Infection Control (APIC) suggests using
a towelette to cleanse the hands and then
an alcohol gel to thoroughly disinfect).
Glove Safety in Contaminated
It is extremely important to wear protective
gloves when working in contaminated flood
waters, particularly when handling human or
animal remains. Ungloved hands should
never make direct contact with body fluids
and fecal materials, or flood waters contaminated
with fecal material.
When working in contaminated flood waters:
- Wear a combination of gloves (if possible)
including an inner cut-resistant glove
(nitrile or similar washable material) and an
outer nitrile or latex disposable glove
(preferably 4 to 8 mil thickness).
- Protect gloved hands from cuts or any
puncture wounds caused by sharp objects.
- Should a puncture wound occur, carefully
remove the contaminated gloves and wash
the affected area with soap and clean (or
disinfected) water or an alcohol-based hand
cleaner. See a doctor or health department
official if the wound is contaminated with
feces, soil, or body fluids. Seek immediate
medical attention if the wound becomes
red, swells, or oozes pus.
- Avoid touching your face with contaminated
gloves; hand-to-mouth contact is a major
route of contracting disease.
- Remove contaminated gloves after use;
discard if gloves become torn or damaged.
- Take extra care when removing contaminated
- Point the hand downward and peel off
the outer glove starting at the wrist, turning them inside out as you proceed. Do
the same for any inner gloves worn.
- Be careful to avoid splashes of contaminated
body fluids or fecal materials to
your face or that of others.
- Avoid contacting any uncontaminated
areas of skin.
- Properly discard outer gloves if disposable
and disinfect inner washable gloves, if
- Wash hands with soap and clean (or disinfected)
water, or use an alcohol-based hand
cleaner immediately after removing contaminated
- Workers allergic to latex should use nitrile gloves.
- To protect against dermatitis, which can occur from prolonged exposure to perspiration in
gloves, a thin cotton glove can be worn inside the external gloves.
- Frequent hand-washing, especially with alcohol-based disinfectants can irritate the skin
and make it more susceptible to abrasion. Use hand lotion to alleviate dryness. However,
do not use hand lotion under latex gloves because this can break down the gloves.
- Contaminated clothing, tools and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned using soap
and clean water if available.
This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA programs, policies or standards. It does not impose any new compliance requirements. For a comprehensive list of compliance requirements of OSHA standards or regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This information will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. The voice phone is (202) 693-1999; teletypewriter (TTY) number: (877) 889-5627.
For more complete information:
Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor