Beware of hidden hazards in flood clean-up

Victorians in flood-affected areas are urged to be alert for unexpected hazards in the workplace and fully assess the risks involved when commencing any clean-up activities.


Contaminated water, broken glass and debris, damaged electricity supplies and asbestos are among the risks to health and safety facing those returning to flooded worksites.

Employers must ensure work is properly planned and coordinated with regular communication, sufficient training and supervision for workers and volunteers, and regular rest breaks to manage fatigue.

When cleaning up after a flood, workers must be equipped with appropriate protective clothing such as sturdy, waterproof boots, heavy duty gloves and eyewear.

Common hazards include sewage containing harmful bacteria that may have overflowed inside a building, wet, slippery and unstable surfaces, and wild animals including rodents, snakes and spiders.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said duty holders should follow any recommendations by emergency services before entering flood-affected sites.

Dr Beer said workplaces inundated with contaminated floodwater must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and also stressed the importance of personal hygiene.

"Only use water that has been boiled or disinfected to wash your hands," Dr Beer said.

"Wear protective clothing to avoid cuts from glass and other sharp objects that may be floating in contaminated water."

Damaged gas and electricity appliances are another hazard. They must be avoided until declared safe by an electrician or plumber.

"Use battery-operated torches instead of candles. Open flames could be dangerous if gas has collected inside a building."

Employers are also urged take the necessary steps if a damaged workplace contains asbestos.

"If your workplace contains asbestos building materials, licensed asbestos contractors should be employed to undertake any repair and renovation."

Things to consider during clean-up and recovery include:

  • Before starting any task, take time to identify potential hazards and consider how to remove or control the associated risks.
  • Ensure work is properly planned and coordinated with regular communication, sufficient supervision and regular rest breaks.
  • Only use equipment that is in good condition, fit for purpose and has appropriate guards in place.
  • Have appropriate personal protective equipment for each task (for example boots, gloves, eye and ear protection, hats, sun protective clothing and high visibility vests) and ensure it is worn correctly.
  • Ensure machinery and vehicle operators are competent and experienced in using specific equipment for the intended task.
  • Clear debris from areas where vehicles are operating, implement traffic management plans and be aware of unstable ground and potential washouts hidden by standing water.
  • Use powered machinery for lifting large or heavy items, particularly if they are waterlogged.
  • Identify any likely asbestos containing materials or dangerous chemicals.
  • Ensure children are well supervised and away from areas where work is going on.