Water loss events can be tough to deal with on their own, but throw in the risk of health complications, and things can become downright scary. 

Sadly, the risk for illness, especially for those suffering with compromised immune systems, increases the longer that a water-affected structure goes unaddressed. For this reason, it is imperative that one seeks professional assistance as soon as a water loss event occurs.

Primary and Secondary Water Damage

There are two main categories of water damage: primary and secondary.

Primary water damage refers to the immediate effect that a water event has on an environment, including wet carpet and padding, moisture-wicking, soaked materials and more. 

Secondary water damage refers to the damage that is incurred after the water loss episode has taken place, and usually involves the growth of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, along with the ongoing deterioration of wood, drywall and other materials within the affected building or structure. 

When either primary or secondary water events occur, there are potential health and safety implications that the restorer, the owner and the occupants of the affected structure must take into account. 

Primary Water Damage Health Risks

In terms of primary water damage, occupants of the affected structure are at risk for multiple health hazards, including:

  • Physical injury such as slips, trips and falls
  • Electrocution
  • Contact with contaminated water
  • Airborne contaminants
  • Contracting a virus or disease

Owners and occupants should note that the chance of these potential health and safety risks greatly increase in water loss situations involving sewage or other defiled water sources. 

Secondary Water Damage Health Risks

As if primary water damage concerns weren’t enough, secondary water damage presents their own set of potential threats. 

Because mold spores, bacteria and viruses thrive in moist environments, one can expect that ongoing and prolonged exposure to moist conditions are going to yield grave results. 

Indeed, a water event that goes on unchecked or is unskillfully handled, can create an atmosphere where microorganism activity can escalate. 

Occupants that become exposed to such an environment may experience the onset of unwanted symptoms that include: 

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Agitation of pre-existing respiratory issues
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Dry or scaly skin

High-Risk Groups

Those with pre-existing conditions or who have chemical sensitivities should take special precautions during water damage episodes. In addition, those who are elderly, pregnant, are children, who have had recent surgery or have immunodeficiencies are also at high risk for being negatively affected by extended exposure to water-affected areas.

In response to situations involving high-risk occupants, remedial staff may decide to employ air filtration devices to help purify potentially contaminated air. 

If the remedial expert sees the need to apply chemical treatments to affected materials in an effort to obliterate bacteria, viruses and fungi, he or she will inform the client beforehand and will instruct them concerning the proper protocol for the application of such treatments. 

Most of the time, owners and occupants will be asked to leave during the application of chemical treatments to avoid any potential health and safety complications that the treatments may invoke. 

Protecting Oneself During a Water Damage Event

The ultimate way to restore a waterlogged environment back to a healthy, safe and natural equilibrium is to remove excess moisture from the structure affected, as soon as possible. 

As such, it is imperative that those who own structures that have been affected by water contact a remedial technician as soon as they discover that a water event has taken place. 

In the meantime, however, the owners or occupants of the property may need to take swift action to ensure that everyone within the affected structure remains safe, as they wait for the remedial team to arrive. This includes:

1. Ensuring that all persons that classify as “high-risk” are moved to a safe location.

2. When possible, impeding the water source, only when it is safe to do so. 

3. Calling a remediation specialist to the scene, and being prepared to answer a few preliminary questions over the phone in order to receive help as quickly as possible.

4. Allowing the restoration team to do what is necessary, without hindrance, to remediate the situation, quickly and effectively.

It is important to note that if the owner or an occupant of the affected structure chooses to shut off the water source, or must come in contact with the water in question in any way, proper safety measures must be taken. 

Wearing safety gear such as gloves, goggles, and rubber boots may be necessary, especially if the water at hand is contaminated.

If at any time, water comes in contact with electrical outlets or the like, owners and occupants should NOT walk in the water to attempt to impede the water source. Doing so could cause electroshock and may prove fatal. Instead, owners and occupants should move to a safe location, and wait for help to arrive. 

Staff Safety

Clients involving the services of a restorative care team should bear in mind that the safety of the restorer is of utmost importance, just as is the safety of the client and other occupants. 

As such, the remedial team may come with personal protective gear that is designed to keep themselves safe. 

If at any time, the remedial team feels that it is necessary to put on gloves, masks or other protective safety gear, they will do so, without hesitation. It is never the intention of the remedial care team to offend the owners or the occupants of an affected structure by taking such measures. Staff must comply with safety standards and protocol, at all times. 

Always Keep Health and Safety, First

To summarize, it is essential that pending water events be addressed immediately by a professional to keep health and safety concerns associated with primary and secondary water damages at a minimum. 

Owners and occupants of the water impaired home or building should use caution when exposing themselves to water-affected areas, and should only do so when safe, and if protective safety gear is available. 

Persons of special interest including children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems should avoid water affected areas completely, and should seek help only once they are out of harm’s way.