April 9, 2019

Flood preparation: Protect workers before, during and after

You may have already seen the forecast: It’s going to be a wet spring in Colorado. Above-normal precipitation in April and May combined with melting from winter’s higher-than-average snowpack will increase the risk of floods.

Floods can cause serious damage. While a few inches of water doesn’t seem like much, it can knock you down. Flash floods often occur without warning in densely populated areas.

Keeping your employees safe during a flood requires preparation and readiness. Follow this guide to get them safely through a flood.

Common flooding hazards

Floods come on quickly. A narrow creek can rise from six inches to 10 feet in under an hour. Knowing your risk for flooding can assist with planning. Keep these hazards in mind:

  • Heavy rain, ice, levy or damn failure, snow melt and debris jams contribute to flash floods.
  • Rapid runoff occurs on steep, mountainous or hilly terrain.
  • Urban, rocky or burn-scarred terrain floods faster because little water seeps into rocks, clay soil, concrete or asphalt.

Preparing for a flood

You can implement these steps right now:

  • Prepare personal protective equipment for workers, such as heavy-duty gloves and goggles.
  • Make an evacuation plan (this tool can help) and practice it regularly.
  • Establish an emergency chain of command.
  • Determine a way to track workers’ locations during the flood.
  • Have food and water available for those employees who may have to stay at work during a flood.

Once you get a flood alert:

  • Use FEMA tools to gather more information.
  • Place important documents in waterproof boxes.
  • Tell employees to keep their medications with them in case they become stuck at work.

During a flood

Take shelter during the flood. Stay up to date on flood warnings and advisories through your phone, radio or TV. Tell your employees to:

  • Stay away from bridges, basements, parking garages and areas prone to flooding.
  • Never drive, walk or swim through flood waters.
  • Avoid downed electrical lines.
  • Turn off power at the main breaker if water nears the circuits.
  • Practice proper form to avoid injury when lifting sandbags, which many people use to erect barriers to keep out water.

After a flood: Precautions for emergency crews

Emergency crews performing recovery efforts after a flood expose themselves to waterborne illnesses, electrical hazards, thermal stress and fatigue as well as a risk of drowning. Crew members should never work alone near flood waters. Other best practices include:

  • Move upwind of activities that generate concrete, brick or stone dust in order to avoid breathing in crystalline silica.
  • Stay out of buildings where flooding has caused extensive mold or structural weakness.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating, applying lip balm, smoking or doing anything mouth-related.
  • Decontaminate rain boots and gear exposed to flood waters.
  • Use gas-powered generators outdoors only in order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Wear layers to guard against hypothermia.

After a flood: Precautions for non-emergency employees    

Flood hazards don’t end when the rain stops. Continue to take post-flood precautions such as:

  • Ventilate work areas to prevent mold growth.
  • Throw away mold-damaged materials and disinfect wet items with a bleach-water mixture.
  • Employ goggles and gloves when handling anything that touched flood waters.
  • Guard against hearing damage by providing earplugs to employees located close to loud cleanup equipment such as blowers or chainsaws.
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves when near standing flood water, which can attract mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus.
  • Do not drive in emergencies until authorities say it’s safe.

By following these tips, you can lower your workplace risk and focus on safety during a flood. Questions? Contact us at safetyoncall@pinnacol.com.