After the deluge: dealing with flooded workplaces

Was your workplace flooded out in the great downpour last week? As the many businesses dry out and get back to work, take a moment to check that you're aware of the real dangers to your health arising from this freak situation. If you're mucking in (literally) with the cleanup, be aware that much of the water that still may be lurking in offices, storerooms and basements will be murky and could well have been contaminated by sewage. Besides the obvious risks from bacterial nasties like ecoli, even shallow water this dirty will stop you seeing any debris or holes that could trip you up. Hazardous chemicals normally present in lots of workplaces, from industrial cleaners to photocopier toner, could have be washing about too. Don't be too gung-ho about it, and make sure you've got proper protective equipment and sanitary precautions. Portable gas or oil heaters might be in operation to speed the cleanup, but check they're only in well-ventilated rooms, away from any flammable materials. Workplaces fortunate enough to have just escaped the floodwater may still find themselves without electricity or running water or maybe hosting families of rats that were displaced, and it would be unreasonable for employers to expect staff back in until power and safe water supplies have been properly restored. If you're going in to work, you need to know that your office is not just dry, but that it's been cleaned and if necessary disinfected. Think twice before turning on any electrical equipment that got damp. Your employer should get a qualified electrician in to look over everything, and double-check essential stuff like fire alarms and emergency lighting. The TUC's Safety expert, Hugh Robertson, said: "Our thoughts go out to all the businesses and individuals whose livelihoods and homes have been affected by the floods. But 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." Read more of Hugh's advice to flood-hit workplaces on the TUC site, and the Health Protection Agency have some useful factsheets on different aspects of the problem.