Recognizing Risks and Hazards can be difficult when you’re stumbling around in the dark. So we recommend doing as much preparation in the light as possible.
Still, as prepared as you may be, there will be hazards that you haven’t accounted for or simply may not have been present during your pre-investigation.
Here are some of the most common hazards faced in the field:
- Structural hazards – There are documented cases of people falling through ceilings of older homes during investigations. Always do a walkthrough in the light and treat all floors as if they could collapse until proven safe. If an area is questionable, mark it off before turning off the lights by stringing painter tape at chest height.
- Electrical hazards – Every year, hundreds of people are killed in homes by electrocution. If there is a low-hanging wire, test it with a voltmeter or multimeter before touching. Assume all wires are live until proven otherwise. Metal is an excellent electrical conductor, so be careful around vents and pipes, as well. If a live wire is touching them, then they are likely to carry a charge that can hurt you.
- Electromagnetic fields – Governmental agencies differ on the safe level for EMF exposure. Some agencies even believe there is no danger from EMF fields; however, other agencies disagree and cite problems associated with EMF that includes mental and physical health issues. Safe levels of EMF are hotly debated in the scientific field, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. Some studies show exposure to levels of over 1 mG for more than an hour may cause digestive tract issues. These studies conclude that if you are entering an area with potentially high EMF exists, you should limit food intake for four hours before exposure and two hours after. Visit the World Health Organization’s website for more information. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/risk_hand/en/index.html.
- Mold – You can find mold everywhere – both indoors and outside — but it thrives mostly in damp environments. There are thousands of strains of mold, which are broken down into tens of thousands of sub classes. You can identify mold by its fuzzy appearance, which can be orange, green, black, brown, pink or purple. Most people do not experience any health effects from mold exposure. However, some molds can cause nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, throat irritation, and coughing or wheezing. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and those with asthma may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. Sometimes, even seemingly healthy people come down with respiratory infections after mold exposure.
- Mildew – There are two main types of mildew. Downy mildew starts as yellow spots, and then the color changes to brown. Powdery mildew is whitish in color and looks like talcum powder. Inhaling mildew can cause coughing, headache, scratchy throat and lung problems. Mildew can also start growing in lungs and cause other serious issues.
- Carbon monoxide – Often referred to as a silent killer, carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, gas ranges, and heating systems. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death.
- Fiberglass insulation – Casual exposure to fiberglass is not a huge concern unless it is being moved or installed. However, in attics and under homes, you should wear a N95 disposable respirator where fiberglass insulation is present to avoid a potential lung infection.
- Asbestos – Investigating in areas with asbestos is dangerous because exposure can cause serious lung damage and cancers. In areas where asbestos is not contained, the only protection from danger is a respirator equipped with HEPA filtered cartridges (color coded purple) or an N-100, P-100 or R-100 NIOSH rating. These cartridges are specific for filtering out asbestos fibers. A N95 disposable respirator paper mask is not adequate. You should always ask potential clients about the presence of asbestos before an investigation.