Flooding – dealing with the aftermath
The last few weeks have seen misery for people in many parts of the country as they have battled with the floods and their aftermath, both in their homes and their workplaces. For many people, this should be the first day back at work and it is important that employers and unions work together to make sure that this crisis is not made worse.
In flooded parts of the country there will be many workplaces where employees’ homes will have been partially underwater or they will have had no water or electricity supply. It will make a huge difference if employers try to make sure that these employees are given as much support as possible. This could include access to showers and washing facilities at work, time off, or other support as required. What is needed will depend on the individual circumstances, and the best thing is simply to make sure that employees know that they can ask for, and expect, the help they need.
The other problem is that workplaces themselves may have been flooded. These buildings will not only need to be dried out, they will also have to be cleaned and disinfected. While unions will want to make sure that everyone “pulls together”, staff should not be put at any further un-necessary risk and no building should be re-occupied until it has been properly inspected and a risk assessment undertaken. In extreme cases the structure of the building will need to be checked before anyone is allowed in.
If any staff are involved in the clean up there should be a risk assessment and staff should be provided with proper personal protective equipment. Floodwater contains not only silt but also sewage. All surfaces that have been contaminated need to be properly cleaned and disinfected as well as dried. Dampness can promote the growth of fungus and mould which can cause allergies and breathing problems if inhaled.
Where employers use temporary portable gas or oil heaters to dry premises, it is important to ensure they have sufficient ventilation and are kept away from any flammable materials. Under no circumstances should petrol or diesel generators be used indoors due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Any electrical equipment that may have been affected by floodwater must not be used until it has been checked and verified as being safe by a competent person. The electricity and gas supply should also not be switched on unless it has been similarly checked.
If any materials, such as chemicals, are stored on the premises they may also have been affected by water. In some cases the composition of the material may have changed or hazardous materials may have spilled out. Safety representatives should ensure that employers have verified that any material that could become dangerous as a result of water damage has been checked and, if necessary, disposed of safely.
External doors, in particular fire exits, should be checked to ensure that they are usable before the building is re-occupied and fire alarms and emergency lighting systems looked at by a competent person before the premises are used.
After flooding, rats and other vermin can often be displaced from flooded buildings and will move to other premises in the vicinity. Employers in areas that are in, or close to, flooded areas should be particularly vigilant in checking for infestations.
The TUC has published guidance on flooding that may be of help, but if you have any specific queries, please contact your union for advice and help.