Workplace safety during flood recovery
When carrying out flood clean-up work, Victorian employers need to be mindful of their responsibilities towards their workers and volunteers, and their obligations under health and safety legislation.
By taking care and planning how you carry out work during the recovery effort, you can help reduce the risk of death, injury and illness to yourself, your workers, and others involved in the clean up and repair effort.
- Steps for planning to do work safely
- Working at height
- Chemical hazards
- Slips, trips and falls
- Protecting against sickness
- Managing fatigue
- Watching for wildlife
- Using quad bikes
- Operating wheeled or tracked machinery in the wet
- Contact us
- Check that an electricity clearance has been given before attempting to use the power. For more advice, contact EnergySafe Victoria.
- Identify any dangerous chemicals or materials that may contain asbestos.
- Assess what work needs to be done.
- Decide the order of the work to be done so that new risks are not introduced. For example, think about how you will access areas where work needs to be done, and consider what could go wrong during the clean up and repair work.
- Work out what tools and equipment are needed to do the work safely, and make sure they’re available and in good working order.
- Check that the people required to operate the equipment have the right skills and that less skilled workers are supervised.
- 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 there is access to toilet facilities, and that appropriate first aid, clean drinking water and hand hygiene measures are available.
- Check there is access to medical treatment in the event of an injury.
- Ascertain whether a fall protection device can be used. This could be a device like an elevated work platform, or a fall injury prevention system like a harness.
- If a device cannot be used, look at other ways to control risks of falls from height. For example, when working on a roof or from a platform above the ground, guardrails could be installed.
- When using a ladder:
- make sure the ladder is sufficiently sturdy
- use the ladder for the purpose it was designed for
- ensure ladders are stable and secure
- do not use a ladder on soggy/soft ground.
- Ensure surfaces are stable and access to areas with unstable floors is safe.
- Be aware of anyone working below and the potential for things to fall on them.
- The demolition contractor’s planning for the job must include identifying and assessing any hazards, and putting control measures in place to address them.
- Ensure the building being demolished is cleared of asbestos and any hazardous contaminants.
- Check with utility companies to confirm that electricity and gas have been disconnected.
- Check that electricity and gas meters have been removed and that no overhead cables remain connected to the structure.
- Check the location of any underground, overhead or concealed services (such as gas, water, and electricity) prior to commencing any demolition work.
Download WorkSafe’s Demolition Operations Checklist.
Where to go for information
- WorkSafe is one of three agencies in Victoria that provides information on asbestos.
- WorkSafe provides advice and information to help employers and workers understand the risks of asbestos and how to comply with their duties, and information on managing and removing asbestos in workplaces.
- If you are a householder intending to work with or remove asbestos from your home, the Department of Health can assist you.
- If you will be involved in the disposal or transportation of waste asbestos, please contact EPA Victoria.
- Your local council may also provide information on domestic renovations or construction work. Find your local council here.
Removing asbestos from the workplace
- Your workplace should have an asbestos register, which details the location of any asbestos and the type (friable or non-friable).
- If your workplace does not have a register or it is not known whether asbestos is present, removal work must not begin until asbestos is confirmed to be present or not. To find someone who is trained to identify suspected asbestos, visit the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) website (using the search function, search for 'asbestos' and tick 'type of test').
- If you’re uncertain whether asbestos is present, avoid carrying out activities like using power tools on products which could contain asbestos (vinyl floor tiles, cement roof sheeting and wall lining, lagging and jointing material, and fire blankets).
- Generally, asbestos removal must be done by a removalist licensed by WorkSafe.
- Unlicensed removal of fixed (or installed) non-friable asbestos is only permitted in specific circumstances: when the asbestos does not exceed 10m2 in total; those removing the asbestos are trained to do the work safely; and the entire removal does not exceed one hour’s work over a seven day period.
- Unlicensed removal of unfixed (or scattered) non-friable asbestos may be done by anyone appropriately trained - as long as it takes less than one hour to collect and bag. If it takes longer, a Class A licensed removalist is required.
Read more about removing asbestos before demolition and refurbishment
The floods may have buried, moved or damaged hazardous chemical containers including corrosives, oils, pesticides and industrial chemicals. To safely handle and dispose of hazardous chemicals, consider the following:
- Try to identify chemicals and their hazards using labels and markings. If water has removed the label, seek expert advice and chemical identification from a waste management consultant or chemical waste disposal facility.
- If a container may cause potential risk (for example, it is bulging under pressure, leaking, or in a precarious position), isolate the immediate area and call ‘000’ for fire emergency.
- Wear personal protective equipment such as chemical-resistant gloves, protective eyewear, closed footwear, and long sleeved shirts and pants, to minimise exposure to skin.
- Isolate chemicals from general waste.
- Segregate chemicals based on the condition of the container (damaged or undamaged) and based on potential reactions with one another (for example, oils and dry pool chlorine may cause a fire).
- To arrange collection of hazardous waste, contact your local council.
- Protect the area from further damage during the clean-up by preventing vehicles like earth-moving equipment from coming into contact with containers (in particular gas cylinders).
- Where plant and equipment exhaust is generated, ensure exhaust gases are ventilated to prevent the build up of gases like carbon monoxide. Reduce this risk by operating generators and other fuel-powered equipment outdoors wherever possible.
- Where plant and equipment must be operated in an enclosed space, monitor the atmosphere using a suitable air monitoring device (for example, a gas detector).
- Chemical processing and handling equipment that has been affected by flooding should be checked prior to operation. Electrical installations must be checked by a qualified electrician.
- For gas supply systems affected by flooding (for example, town gas or fixed tank installations), contact your supplier to make sure it is safe to operate.
- For LP gas tanks and cylinders affected by flooding, contact your LP gas supplier.
- Ensure that clothing and equipment that come into contact with chemicals are decontaminated. Wash down clothing with water then launder separately.
- Keep work areas as clear and dry as possible.
- Wear suitable footwear with good grip.
- Try to avoid climbing on objects or surfaces; use equipment such as ladders or step stools wherever possible and safe.
- Ensure ladders and steps are stable or secured when in use.
- Try to make sure there is adequate light in work areas.
- Take care with sudden changes in floor surfaces like steps or curbs, or with damaged flooring.
Download a checklist to help prevent slips, trips and falls at work.
- Maintain good hand and personal hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with mud, flood water and contaminated items and equipment, and before eating and drinking.
- Clean and cover cuts and wounds. Talk to your doctor if you get a wound as you may need a tetanus booster.
- Where contact with flood water and mud is unavoidable, wear enclosed footwear, gloves and suitable clothing.
- Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites – wear long pants, socks, long sleeved shirts and apply insect repellent.
Environmental conditions after floods increase the risk for infectious diseases. Skin infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections and mosquito-borne diseases are the most common infectious diseases after floods.
More information about disaster management, including how to manage mould and other sources of disease, is available from Department of Health.
- Roster shifts so that workers/volunteers have the opportunity to sleep continuously for 7 to 8 hours in each 24 hour period.
- Rotate shifts forward so people start work later rather than earlier.
- Limit number of consecutive night shifts to four.
- Finish night shifts by 8 am.
- Allow a minimum of 12 hours between consecutive shifts.
- Roster at least two full nights sleep after a workers last night shift.
- Provide frequent rest breaks during shifts.
- Provide transport where possible to minimise the risks associated with commuting.
- Provide an area/room for workers to sleep before commuting home.
- Schedule more hazardous and complex tasks during the daytime (when workers are most alert).
- Allow and encourage workers/volunteers to access to employee assistance services as required.
Download more information about fatigue.
- Check in and under objects before attempting to move an object as snakes, spiders and other undomesticated animals may be taking refuge in the dry location. Startling these animals may cause them to become aggressive and attack.
- Do not attempt to kill snakes. Snake bites most often occur when someone has strike a snake.
- Engage a wildlife removal specialist to remove snakes from buildings.
- Wear an appropriate helmet.
- Avoid crossing waterways, flooded or muddy terrain and washouts.
- Keep to a speed which is safe in the conditions.
- Do not allow children or untrained, inexperienced people to operate quad bikes.
- Be aware of hidden obstacles that may be covered by mud, debris, grass or water.
- Do not carry passengers or overload the bike.
Download more information about quad bikes.
- Be aware of changed ground conditions which may increase the risk of roll over, bogging or loss of stability.
- Take account of decreased vision due to rain, mud and other conditions.
- Be aware of potentially unstable waterways, channels or dams.
- If towing a trailer or pulling a vehicle, ensure loads are attached to a low point of a tractor, to reduce rollover risk.
- Keep an eye on tyre pressure and tread depth in order to maintain traction, provide the best level of braking, and stop the vehicle from sliding on soft or broken ground.
- Do not exceed the manufacturer’s instructions for operating on slopes or inclines.
Download more information about tractors and machinery.
For advice on making your workplace healthy and safe after the floods, call our toll free Advisory Service on 1800 136 089.