Note: The following information is just a starting point, to get you thinking about your personal safety; please check with medical professionals and other experts for more detailed, specific advice for your particular situation.
Rodent droppings and hantavirus
Certain rodents carry hantavirus, which can be very serious when transmitted to humans through the rodents’ droppings, urine, or saliva. The CDC — Centers for Disease Control — has information on how to clean up after rodents. Of course, you’ll also want to do all you reasonably can to prevent a future infestation, too.
Insect and spider bites
Watch where you put your hands; don’t reach into areas you can’t see. If you’re working in an area likely to have spider problems, the Mayo Clinic suggests wearing gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and boots, and an insect repellant. In The ICD Guide to Challenging Disorganization, organizer Victoria Roberts says: “Bright lights drive spiders out. Just don’t be in their way. Keep Benadryl in your first aid kit.”
Cuts and Puncture Wounds
Anything from a thumbtack to a sewing needle to a rusty nail can cause an injury. Again, watch where you put your hands, consider wearing gloves, wear appropriate shoes, and have a First Aid Kit nearby. And make sure your tetanus vaccination is up-to-date — always a good idea, anyway.
If you find mold, see the CDC’s information on cleaning up mold and preventing it from recurring. The Washington State Department of Health also has good information. Note that some moldy items may need to be discarded.
Even simple dust can cause problems. Dr. Anthony Komaroff of the Harvard Medical School says: “People with respiratory allergies should consider wearing a mask that filters out dust when they clean.” The Mayo Clinic has suggestions on how best to clean dusty areas: “Use a damp or oiled mop or rag rather than dry materials to clean up dust. This prevents dust from becoming airborne and resettling.”
Slips, falls, and strains
Make sure you can safely reach any area where you’re working. Use a sturdy step stool or ladder to reach higher places. Watch for slippery surfaces and wear shoes that provide good traction. Also watch out for common tripping hazards: throw rugs, electrical cords, and pets that can get underfoot.
Working with lots of papers? According to members of MetaFilter, using finger cots or latex-free finger tips can protect against these cuts, as can archivist’s gloves. Members also recommended using specific hand creams or lotions to keep your hands moisturized, making it less likely that you’ll get paper cuts.
Final Note: If the potential hazards in any cluttered space feel too intimidating to handle on your own, consider hiring help. Try searching for terms such as rodent cleanup services, mold cleanup services, or mold remediation services — or get a referral from a trusted real estate agent or other trusted source.