Public Health and Safety

Public Health and Safety

Following the initial damage to property and infrastructure caused by the disaster – sickness and injury can still occur. Water can become contaminated from the breakdown in utilities, such as power, sewerage and water supply. This can increase the risk of disease during clean up and recovery operations.

For further information about public health contact the Department of Health at: or phone: 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

The main health risks in natural disaster areas include:

  • injuries such as, falls, skin lacerations and exposure to fallen electricity wires
  • carbon monoxide poisoning from using petrol powered generators and pumps in confined spaces
  • skin infections which, if not treated, can develop into blood infection
  • snake and spider bites
  • sunburn
  • mosquito-borne infections
  • illness from eating or drinking contaminated foods or liquids.

Don’t walk or wade through flood water, if you can avoid it

  • There is an increased risk of wound infections, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, and ear, nose and throat infections from polluted waters. Leptospirosis can also be contracted from flood water.
  • Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases – such as diabetes and kidney disease – and people who abuse alcohol or other drugs are more prone to infections and should consider avoiding flood water and mud due to hidden physical hazards and snakes.

Watch out for snakes, spiders and mossies

  • Watch out for snakes and spiders that may have hidden inside houses or debris.
  • If bitten by a spider or snake apply immediate first aid and seek medical attention.
  • Sandflies and mosquitoes may become a real nuisance following storms, floods and other natural disasters. There are several measures that can be taken to prevent mosquito-borne diseases from occurring. Personal protection measures can reduce the risk of you and your family getting bitten by mosquitoes:
    • Use insect repellent (in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions), especially when outside at dawn or dusk.
    • In dengue receptive areas protect against mosquito bites during the day as the dengue mosquito bites during the day and likes to rest indoors.
    • Wear long, loose, light-coloured clothing.
    • Use flying insect spray, mosquito coils or plug-in insecticide devices to kill mosquitoes in-doors.
    • Use bed nets, if available.
    • Repair defective insect screens or fit new screens, if possible.
  • The best way to prevent mosquito-borne diseases is to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. There are a number of measures you can take around the home to prevent breeding:
    • Remove debris and vegetation from storm drains and ditches.
    • Drain areas in and around yards and workplaces where water has accumulated.
    • Empty all containers including buckets, tyres, bird baths and palm fronds weekly to reduce mosquito breeding.
    • Mosquitoes can breed in domestic water tanks, so checking the integrity of water tank screens and replacing damaged screens is a sound prevention measure.

Wash your hands and keep wounds covered

Wash your hands with soap and water or a hand sanitiser after:

  • contact with damaged materials, flood water or mud
  • going to the toilet
  • before preparing or consuming food or drink.

Protect your skin from cuts that could become infected

  • Clean and disinfect all wounds and keep them covered. Avoid flood water and mud if you have broken skin or wounds, especially if you have diabetes or other chronic diseases. Wounds heal most quickly if the limbs are rested and elevated.
  • See a health professional or your doctor early for severe wounds, especially if the wound is dirty or becomes red, sore, swollen or painful.

Food Safety in an Emergency

Following an emergency such as a flood, storm or cyclone, there is a danger that some food in your house may not be safe to eat, especially if power has been cut or if food has been in contact with contaminated floodwater.

After an emergency, it is recommended that you dispose of the following:

  • Food that has been in contact with floodwater.
  • Food that has an unusual odour, colour or texture.
  • Refrigerated food that has been left unrefrigerated or above 5°C for more than four hours.
  • Frozen food after 48 hours (if the freezer is full) or after 24 hours (if the freezer is only half full). If frozen food has partially thawed, the food should be eaten as soon as possible.
  • Canned food where the can is open, swollen or damaged, or has a missing or damaged label.
  • Food containers with screw or twist caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soft drink bottles) and flip tops.

Commercially canned foods that are sealed, not bulging or dented, may be safe.  It is recommended that you:

  • Remove the label since it could harbour dirt and bacteria.
  • Thoroughly wash the outside of the can with drinking quality water (hot if possible).
  • Sanitise the can by dipping it in a solution of 1.5 cups of household chlorine bleach in 10 litres of warm water for two minutes and then rinsing it in drinking quality water.
  • Re-label the can with a waterproof marker pen, including the expiry date. Use the product as soon as possible.

If in doubt, throw it out!

If your vegetable garden has been in contact with floodwater, the food may be contaminated and unsafe to eat. Contaminants may persist in the soil after flooding. Depending of the type of contamination, it may take at least a month before your home garden is suitable for replanting and/or harvesting of any produce.

Water for drinking

During a disaster, tap water and private water supplies from tanks, wells and bores may be contaminated and unsafe to drink. Redland City Council will advise if you need to take precautions before drinking water in your area. Listen to Bay FM 100.3 and ABC 612 AM and  for public announcements about the safety of your water supply, or check with Redland City Council. Private water supplies should be tested before use.

If you are concerned that your water may be contaminated, treat it before drinking. Use only bottled, boiled or treated water for: drinking, cooking or preparing food, washing utensils and surfaces, brushing teeth, hand washing, making ice and bathing. Thoroughly clean any containers used to store water with hot, soapy drinking quality water and then rinse with a bleach solution of one tablespoon of bleach per two litres of warm water. Rinse thoroughly with drinking quality water before use.

Treating drinking water

1. Use a kettle or fill a pot with water (keep handles away from young children)

2. Boil water

3. Let water cool

4. Store in a clean, covered container.

After a power failure

When disasters hit, power failures are likely to occur and the food in your fridge may be unsafe to eat.  It is useful to make a note of the time the power failed.

Keep cold food COLD:

  • Keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible while the power is off. A closed refrigerator should keep food cold for four hours.
  • Refrigerated food will spoil sooner than frozen food, so eat any perishable foods in your fridge first, such as dairy products and meat.
  • Freezers will usually not defrost and spoil food for at least 24 hours, provided the door has been kept shut. If frozen foods have thawed, they should not be refrozen but should be kept cold and eaten as soon as possible. What can’t be eaten should be thrown out. Throw out any food that has started to spoil, especially if it smells bad, tastes strange or is slimy.
  • If you have access to ice, pack your refrigerator and freezer to help maintain a cool temperature.

Keep hot food HOT:

  • Throw out food that was being cooked when the power failed, if the cooking cannot be completed within two hours.
  • If food is already properly cooked, eat it within two hours or throw it out.

Cleaning and Sanitising

If bench tops, food utensils and kitchen equipment have been in contact with floodwater, please take the following action:

  • Throw away damaged or cracked items, and items made from porous material such as wood, plastic or rubber (including wooden chopping boards) as these items cannot be adequately sanitised.
  • Wash utensils and surfaces in hot soapy drinking quality water.
  • Take apart and clean the non-electrical pieces of kitchen equipment and rinse in clean hot water.
  • Sanitise silverware, metal utensils, pots, pans and kitchen equipment in pieces by placing them in boiling water for at least three minutes.
  • Dishes and utensils that cannot be safely placed in boiling water (certain glassware, porcelain, china and enamelware) should be sanitised by immersing it in a disinfecting solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per two litres of warm water, then rinsed with drinking quality water.
  • Clean cupboards and counters with hot soapy water, then rinse with a chlorine bleach solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per two litres of warm water. Rinse thoroughly with drinking quality water.
  • Don’t use tea towels that might have been splashed with contaminated water.