Floods - health and safety advice for clear-up operations
Following the serious flooding in parts of the UK in 2007, we have put together this advice for reps and members.
The guidence is intended to support safety representatives in ensuring that any return to work is safe and does not pose a risk to health. Many of the issues will be equally applicable to home flood recovery and the contacts shown at the end of the guidance will assist further
Flood recovery planning
Every employer should have a 'disaster recovery plan' which should have been agreed with their trade union sides. Any lessons learnt from the experiences of flooding may need to incorporated into these plans for future use.
Getting to and from work safely
No-one should be expected to walk through flood waters to get to work. If areas where members live are cut off by flood waters, suitable arrangements should be made so that they are not pressured into journeys that might not be safe to make - official advice is to avoid flood waters, partly due to possible contamination but more significantly because it is impossible to see where you are walking and to check that it is safe. Manhole covers have been lifted and washed away in some areas, leaving very deep holes that people could fall into; also, debris may be lying unseen under the water.
No-one should be expected to travel into areas that are or could be affected by flood water - except those whose work is integral to flood defence and/or recovery, who should have been trained in safe operating techniques and provided with necessary specialist equipment.
Where workers operate in the premises of other employers, it is vital that their own employer takes responsibility for ensuring that any such premises have been properly cleaned, disinfected and checked for structural integrity etc before being re-opened.
Re-occupying premises that were flooded
Before staff are moved back into any workplaces that have been affected by flooding, it is vital that a full risk assessment is undertaken. Local PCS safety representatives must be fully involved in this.
Gas and electricity supplies must not be reconnected until they have been checked and certified as safe by a competent person.
Electrical equipment that could have been water-damaged must not be reconnected or used until it also has been checked and certified as safe to use by a competent electrician.
Heating and ventilation systems may also need to be checked by a competent person before they can be reconnected and used. This may have consequences for when premises can be reoccupied.
If portable appliances are being brought in either to provide heating or to assist in drying out premises, a full assessment of their safety in use needs to be made, including impact on electricity supplies and any routine maintenance requirements, such as emptying out dehumidifiers.
Safety critical systems, such as fire alarms, automatic fire detection equipment, emergency lighting systems, need to be checked and verified as working correctly before premises are reoccupied.
Emergency escape routes also need to be checked, to ensure that they are free of obstruction or debris and that doors etc. have not been damaged to an extent that prevents their use in the event of a need to evacuate premises.
Floor coverings that are water damaged will have to be removed. If they cannot be replaced before reoccupation is proposed, floor surfaces will then need to be checked to ensure that they are safe to use.
The structure of buildings needs to be checked to ensure that no possible damage has occurred - the risks of this will vary, depending on the nature of the building construction and the depth of any flood waters that affected the premises. If there are any doubts about structural safety, qualified surveyor reports may be needed.
Flood water can contain various contaminants. Any areas or surfaces affected will need to be properly cleaned and disinfected before they are brought back into use.
If damaged equipment and/or furniture cannot be disposed of immediately, storage will need to be found in suitable areas. Stairwells, emergency evacuation routes etc. must not be compromised.
Dampness can promote the growth of fungus and mould. Any such areas must be properly maintained to prevent this developing during any drying process.
Any chemicals or other potentially hazardous substances that were stored in the premises may have been contaminated by flood waters. These will need to be properly assessed to ascertain the impact of the damage so that suitable containment and/or disposal can be arranged.
If staff are involved in clearing up after flooding, basic health and safety precautions need to be taken including:
- the provision of suitable protective clothing (e.g. waterproof boots, aprons/coveralls, gloves)
- covering any cuts or grazes with waterproof plasters;
- washing hands thoroughly after coming into contact with contaminated materials, and certainly before eating or drinking;
Many official agency websites offer further advice on cleaning up after flooding, including: