Key Points:

 – Injury risks are significant in storm and flood damage clean-up. Safety should be a priority.

– Often helpers and volunteers can be involved in clean-up and WHS obligations apply.

– Assess risks and follow appropriate orders for high risk electrical and chemical reparations.

Employers, workers and any volunteers involved in storm and flood recovery efforts need to keep in mind their obligations under health and safety laws.

Being vigilant and maintaining safety during such difficult times, you can help reduce the risk of death, injury and illness to yourself, other workers and anyone involved in clean-up and repair efforts.

If you are preparing to clean up in or around your workplace or home, please remember there are serious risks that lurk in flood water. Always consider the following significant risks:

  • Electrical Hazards ● Solar Panels ● Hazardous Chemicals ● Asbestos ●Working from Heights
  • Slips, Trips & Falls ● Snakes and other animals ● Water & Mud-borne disease

Risk management

For any organisations or employers involved in coordinating clean-up or recovery activities, it is important that you assess the potential for hazardous conditions and/or exposures before attempting any activity in a flood affected area.

  • Identify the hazards – information on common clean-up hazards and protective measures.
  • Assess the level of risk – the likelihood of exposure to the hazard, and the consequences (what harm could be done).
  • Control the risk – identify and implement a control as per the hierarchy of controls.
  • Review the control measures – to ascertain the effectiveness of the control implemented and to make sure you haven’t introduced a new risk.
  • Based on initial assessments of hazards, you may need to provide workers or volunteers with appropriate information, training, supervision or equipment to safely perform clean-up work.

Steps for planning to do work safely

  • Report fallen, low or damaged powerlines to the emergency services or your electricity distribution entity and stay away from them.
  • Stay away and don’t touch switchboards if they are damaged by water.
  • Check that an electricity clearance has been given before attempting to use it.
  • If you have a solar power generating system, avoid getting on the roof unless absolutely necessary and keep away from solar panels and their cables.
  • Dispose of or have a licensed electrician repair water-affected electrical appliances, such as PCs, kettles, monitors and fridges.
  • Have a licensed electrician check all water-damaged hard-wired electrical appliances, such as air-conditioning units or stoves, intended for re-use before the power supply is reconnected.
  • Don’t do your own electrical work – it’s illegal and dangerous. Always use a licensed electrician.
  • Identify any likely asbestos containing materials or dangerous chemicals.
  • Assess what work needs to be done and how it can be done as safely as possible.
  • Work out the order of the work to be done so that new risks are not introduced, e.g. think about how you will get access to the areas where the work is to be done and an exit plan if needed.
  • Consider what could go wrong during the clean-up and repair work.
  • Work out what tools and equipment will be needed to do the work safely.
  • Check the correct equipment is available and is in good working order.
  • Check that the people required to operate the equipment have the right skills and competencies and ensure supervision of less skilled workers is available.
  • Check that people allocated to perform work are not fatigued.
  • Make sure that workers have the correct personal protective equipment (for example rubber-soled shoes, gloves, hats, sun protective clothing and high visibility vests) and it is worn correctly.
  • Check that appropriate first aid, clean drinking water and hand hygiene measures are available and there is access to medical treatment in the event of an injury occurring.
  • Check that there is access to toilet facilities.
  • Highlight any counselling services available to staff and encourage their use.

Further information regarding safe flood and storm clean-up, as well as other support services and financial assistance is available from your State Government and state-based Work Safe entity.