HG Alert: Health and Safety During Queensland’s Flood Recovery - 14 Jan 2011

Our thoughts are with those who are experiencing hardship due to the severe flooding that has affected South East and regional Queensland.

Employers and workers returning to work (and homeowners returning to flood-damaged homes) and cleaning up following floods need to take stock of, assess, and plan to avoid, potential safety risks associated with both the physical environment (such as integrity of buildings; plant, equipment and appliances; and electrical systems) and the clean-up process itself.

Apart from the ultimate objective of avoiding personal injuries (or worse), owners and occupiers of property, employers, workers and service providers, even volunteers, have statutory obligations to avoid safety risks. Breaches of these - even for 'near misses' - can lead to prosecution for significant penalties.

Recalling the five basic steps in the risk management process is a good starting and focal point for all stakeholders:

  1. Identify relevant hazards caused by the flooding.
  2. Assess any risks presented by the hazards.
  3. Consider ways to eliminate or minimise the risks.
  4. Implement safe work arrangements to avoid the risks.
  5. Monitor and review developments on a continuous basis to ensure that work arrangements are safe. Refine and adjust them as necessary.

Think outside the square. Most of us will be unfamiliar with the safety issues presented by the flooding, and potential hazards may not be immediately obvious.

The Queensland Government has already produced a series of information packages to assist safe recovery from flood-affected workplaces and homes. We recommend that you read these for more information.

Workplace health and safety

Click here for information about managing workplace health and safety obligations during flood recovery, including:

Steps for planning to do work safely;

  • Working at heights;
  • Demolition;
  • Works relating to materials containing asbestos;
  • Preventing slips, trips and falls;
  • Avoiding risks from biological hazards (eg sickness from contaminated water);
  • Managing worker fatigue;
  • Avoiding injury from displaced fauna (such as snakes and spiders);
  • Quad-bike use (particularly in the wet or muddy areas); and
  • Use of other wheeled and tracked machinery (particularly in the wet).

For further information or assistance in relation to any of these matters, contact us or phone the Queensland Workplace Health and Safety Infoline on 1300 369 915.

Electrical safety

Click here for further information about managing electrical safety risks during flood recovery, including:

  • Finding an electrician;
  • Electrical risks associated with outdoor activities;
  • Powerlines;
  • Switchboards;
  • Electrical works;
  • Electrical appliances and equipment; and
  • Potential risks associated with generator use.

For further information or assistance please contact us or:

  • Ergon Energy on 13 10 46
  • Energex on 13 12 53
  • Country Energy on 13 23 56
  • The Electrical Safety Office on 1300 650 662.

Personal health and safety issues

Click here for further information published by Queensland Health (including telephone helplines across Queensland) in relation to a range of risks to personal health and safety produced by flooding and flood recovery, including:

  • Practical precautions for personal safety;
  • Drinking water; and
  • Food safety.

Serious safety incidents

Serious safety incidents involving injury, death or near-misses must by law be reported to safety regulators and may lead to formal investigation and prosecution processes. If you need advice or assistance in connection with a serious safety incident or dealings with State workplace safety investigators, please contact us. For urgent assistance after hours please call Andrew Tobin on 0419 762 943.

Evidential requirements for insurance purposes

In addition to managing health and safety issues, you should locate your insurance policy and review its terms to determine whether the damage sustained will be covered. If possible, you should discuss the terms of your policy with your insurance broker and/or your insurer as to your eligibility to make a claim under your particular policy, with a view to making your claim as soon as possible.

Importantly, and as best you can throughout the clean-up, you must gather together as much information as possible to support your claim to your insurer. This will help avoid a dispute as to whether certain items were lost or damaged, or whether certain damage actually occurred. If such evidence is clearly documented, then this sort of dispute with your insurer can be avoided.

The best way of doing this is for you to take a photographic or video record upon your return to your property of:

  • the entirety of the premises;
  • all damaged items, stock and/or property; and
  • all items, stock and/or property that are disposed of during the clean-up.

You should also make a written inventory of all of these items, including a written record of any serial numbers or other identification labels on these items, mainly for electrical items or other plant and equipment.

If a dispute arises with your insurer with respect to your claim, you may ask your insurer to internally review its decision. If the outcome of the internal review is unsatisfactory, you may then request that the decision is externally reviewed by the Financial Ombudsman Service.

If you have any concerns or queries concerning the terms of your policy or your dealings with your insurance company, please contact us.