February 14, 2014
As much of the UK prepares to endure yet another winter storm, the TUC has issued guidance for employers on ways to support staff affected by the flooding, and offered advice on the sort of health and safety risks the floods could pose to workplaces. The guidance aims to help employers and employees ensure that workplaces situated within flooded areas are safe before anyone returns to work. This covers both journeys to work through flooded areas and the sort of dangers to look out for in affected buildings, including for example, from contaminants and faulty electrics. The union also urges employers to offer extra support to staff whose homes are either already partially submerged or are at risk from the rising floodwater; which for example could include allowing them to use showers and washing facilities at work.
The union also argues that workplaces fortunate enough to have escaped the floodwater may still find themselves without electricity or running water, and it would be unreasonable and unsafe for employers to expect staff to work until power and water supplies have been restored.
TUC Senior Health and Safety Officer Hugh Robertson said: “Our thoughts go out to all the businesses and individuals whose livelihoods and homes have been affected by the floods.
“In these difficult circumstances work is likely to be the last thing on people’s minds, but employers whose workplaces have escaped the floodwater or which are in unaffected areas should be sympathetic to the problems being experienced by their employees and allow them time away from work.
“And when the water finally starts to recede, although employers and their staff will be keen for a return to normal as soon as possible, it’s important not to risk avoidable injuries and accidents by doing things in a rush. Employers need to check that their workplaces are safe before asking their staff to come back to work.”
This means checking that any affected factory, shop or office is not only dry, but has also been cleaned and disinfected. Portable gas or oil heaters can be used to speed up the drying process, but these should be placed in well-ventilated rooms, away from any flammable materials, says the safety advice.
A qualified electrician should check that any electrical equipment that has come into contact with floodwater is safe to use, and similar checks should take place before the power supply is turned back on. Fire exits, fire alarms and emergency lighting systems will also need to be looked at.
Click to download Health and Safety in the Aftermath of Flooding.