Returning home after a natural disaster
Be cautious when returning to your property. Before you return, make sure you check with local emergency services that it is safe to do so, and you have permission to return.
Put on protective clothing before entering your property, including:
- Sturdy boots and heavy-duty gloves.
- Overalls with long sleeves and trousers (preferably disposable).
- Special face masks (called ‘P2’) which filter out fine ash, dusts or asbestos fibres that dusk masks, handkerchiefs and bandanas do not.
Power outages and other electrical safety
Natural disasters can cause power outages.
- Do not turn on your gas and electricity until you are sure it is safe to do so.
- Have all wiring, gas and electrical equipment tested by an electrician.
- Restock and recharge batteries you used.
- Throw out food that has gone off in the fridge or freezer.
- If you have solar panels, check your solar system has been restored after any planned or unplanned outage. Not all solar inverters switch back on automatically.
Be alert to all hazards
- If you have a septic tank, it may have been weakened so do not drive or walk over it.
- Minimise disturbance of dust and ash, which may contain hazardous materials.
- Do not spread ash around, moisten it with water to minimise dust.
- Be alert for hazardous materials such as LPG cylinders, chemicals (garden/farm), cleaning products, medicines and other burnt residues.
- If you are using portable generators make sure they are in a well-ventilated area to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- There may also be overhead hazards such as falling trees and tree limbs and live power lines.
Mould is a type of fungi and belongs to a group of organisms that also include mushrooms and yeasts. Mould is present at low levels virtually everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
People are exposed to mould on a daily basis without harm.
Mould looks like fuzz, or a stain or smudge and most commonly they are black, green, or white in appearance. They can produce a musty smell.
Mould needs a food source (dirt, dust, wood, organic matter) and moisture to grow. Mould growth typically occurs in wet or moist areas that are poorly ventilated.
Mould reproduces by making spores. These spores can travel through the air when mould is disturbed (e.g. during cleaning) and when they land on damp spots, they may continue to grow and spread.
There are many different types of mould and some have the potential to cause health problems in people who are sensitive or allergic to them. People with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory diseases are more sensitive to mould. People with weakened immune systems (such as HIV infection, chemotherapy patients, or organ transplant patients) are more at risk of a mould infection in their respiratory system.
If you are concerned about the effects of mould, seek medical advice.
Mould can only grow where there is moisture, so the key to preventing mould is to reduce dampness in your home. Parts of a house that are prone to mould growth are:
- Kitchens, bathrooms and laundries – due to condensation or high humidity
- Cupboards and corners – due to restricted ventilation
- Walls and ceilings – due to ineffective insulation
- Walls and floors that are subject to rising damp as a result of inadequate damp proof coursing.
Mould growth can be prevented or minimized by using heat, insulation and ventilation.
- Heat – a continuous, low level of dry heat will allow warmth to penetrate the walls and ceilings, keeping them dry.
- Insulation – insulated walls and ceilings stay warmer, keeping the heat in and reducing condensation.
- Ventilation – opening a door or window reduces moisture and humidity, both of which are required for mould growth.
All areas of a house should be regularly ventilated. Use exhaust fans when bathing, showering, cooking, doing laundry or drying clothes.
You can also reduce mould growth by:
- Opening curtains and blinds during the day.
- Wiping away condensation on windows and windowsills.
- Clean and dry surfaces that get wet regularly (e.g. bathroom tiles).
- Install exhaust fans in areas that are prone to condensation.
- Ensure all exhaust fans are vented to the outside air.
- Use lids on saucepans to reduce moisture.
- Keep rooms uncluttered to allow air movement.
- Hang wet clothes outdoors.
- Keep the roof, cladding and guttering in good repair to prevent leaks
- Install exhaust fans in areas that are prone to condensation
- All exhaust fans should be vented to the outside air.
If you can see or smell mould, you need to clean it up to prevent it from spreading and to prevent it from damaging the surfaces it grows on.
People who should avoid mould clean-up and avoid being present during clean-up include:
- Children under 12 years
- Pregnant women
- People over 65 years
- People with allergies and respiratory conditions such as asthma
- People with weakened immune systems such as HIV infection or chemotherapy patients.
Small areas of mould can be cleaned by using mild detergent or a vinegar mixture (4 parts vinegar to 1 part water).
If the mould is not readily removed, use diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 3 parts water).
When cleaning mould, do not dry-brush the area as you may disperse mould spores into the air which may cause health problems or establish growth in other areas.
Wear rubber gloves, safety glasses and make sure the area is well-ventilated.
Absorbent materials such as carpets, upholstery and mattresses need to be discarded if they are contaminated with mould.
If mould contamination is extensive then a professional cleaner should be consulted.
Visit the Department of Health Website for more information on Mould.
Throw away all perishable food if the power has been off for more than a day. For shorter outages, if food is still cold to touch (less than 50C) it is safe to use. Once cold or frozen food has warmed or thawed, it should be thrown out.
Repairing your home after a natural disaster
Repair work should only be undertaken when your house has been made safe to enter and is clear of debris. If you have insurance, you need to check first with your insurance provider before entering the property or making any changes.
When you start repair work
When you decide to repair your home, make sure that the person you choose to undertake repairs is licensed.
Building services providers, plumbers, gas-fitters and electricians must hold certain licences in order to perform certain work. Not all types of building work requires a licence, for example painting, concreting and landscaping.
- You can find a licensed tradesperson by searching the database on www.cbos.tas.gov.au.
- You will also need to check if you need building approval before undertaking extensive repair work on your property, particularly if the work affects structural components of the house. For more information, contact your local council or a building surveyor.
Fire may damage some building materials by direct contact or indirectly through radiated heat.
Unburnt parts of the home may also have been damaged as a result of the fire, even if they appear to be unaffected. For example, if structural components of the home have been burnt, this may undermine the stability of other parts of the home.
You should be aware of this and engage licensed tradespeople where necessary to assist you in repairing your home safely and effectively.
Depending on the type of building materials used in your home, water damage may occur immediately or as a result of prolonged exposure to water. You should be aware of this when planning and carrying out repair works.
- If you have tanks for drinking water, you should clean your roof and guttering of any debris and fire retardant that may have been sprayed on your roof. This will help to prevent contamination of your drinking water.
- If you have an onsite wastewater management system on your property (for example, a septic tank) you should engage a licensed plumber to check to make sure the drains to that system have not been blocked by debris from the fire.
Rainwater tanks - drinking water contamination
Emergencies like floods and bushfires can contaminate water with silt, dirt, mud, ash, chemical residues and dead animals.
The risk to human health is low from contaminated rainwater tanks in bushfire-affected areas, however, if fire-fighting foams have entered your tank, do not drink the water and do not give it to pets to drink.
If your rainwater tank is intact and the water has no abnormal look, smells or taste, it should be safe to use.
- It is safest to boil untreated water that you plan to drink. If the rainwater looks, smells or tastes unusual, assume it is contaminated and don’t drink it or use it for cooking, or preparing food.
- Check your roof and guttering for ash, debris and animal carcasses. Remove them as soon as possible to avoid contaminants getting flushed into your tank.
- If your rainwater has been contaminated, drain the tank and allow it to refill with clean rainwater or fill it with water from a registered water carter.
For more information visit www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/publichealth/water/drinking/rural/tanks
Asbestos is a natural occurring mineral fibre that may be present in wall sheeting, roofing and flooring. If the sheeting is damaged, asbestos can be released into the air and create a hazard for human health. When asbestos is inhaled or swallowed, fibres can get stuck inside the body, leading to significant health issues. The safe handling of asbestos material is critical.
If you are not sure that the material is free from asbestos, you should presume that it is present and take the following precautions.
Landowners can dispose up to 10m2 of asbestos material by themselves.
However, this material will need to be handled with care. You must ensure that you are appropriately protected and that the material is handled and disposed of in a safe way to ensure the health and safety of both yourself and others.
The most important factor in handling asbestos is to ensure you are wearing the appropriate protective gear at all times.
When handling asbestos, you much wear respiratory protection (a P2 mask) as well as overall, gumboots and gloves. Material containing asbestos should be wet down prior to handling.
Disposing of asbestos
Asbestos should be double wrapped in black plastic sheeting before disposal in an approved landfill site.
It is also a good idea to call ahead to the approved landfill site and let them know you are coming to dispose of asbestos-containing material.
If you have more than 10m2 of asbestos, a licensed removalist is needed for its safe removal and disposal. Visit the WorkSafe Tasmania website to find an asbestos removalist or assessor.