Worker safety after flooding


It is important to be aware of the dangers of flooding.

Workers who are involved in assessing and/or cleaning up flood damage to their worksite are at risk of being affected by potential dangers that a flood presents, such as electrical hazards, mold and drowning.

CSEA members should note that operations such as cleaning up hazardous materials or search and rescue should only be performed by workers who have the proper training, experience and equipment.

Remember that employers are responsible for ensuring workers’ safety. Specifically, if workers are assigned to cleanup tasks, whether mandatorily or voluntary, employers are required to provide proper sanitation, potable water, equipment, required personal protective equipment (PPE) and training before duties are assigned.

Workplaces should also have written plans and procedures, have alert or notification systems for reporting emergencies, create evacuation routes and assess them for potential hazards and work with local health and public safety authorities.

Here is an overview of some tasks that CSEA members may have to perform following a disaster. To see more resources for emergency response, visit OSH-Flood.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly half of flood fatalities are vehicle-related. If the water level is rising around your vehicle, you should abandon it. Do not try to cross flooded roadways if you don’t know the water’s depth. Employers should also advise workers on alternate routes to destinations in case a roadway is washed out or otherwise unsafe for driving.

Electrical hazards
If water has been anywhere near electrical circuits and equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not enter flooded areas or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet.

Tree and debris removal
Workers removing trees and clearing debris are at risk of electrocution from contact with downed power lines, falls from heights and being crushed by falling tree limbs. A worker could also be injured by equipment such as chainsaws or chippers. Employers must provide PPE when this equipment is used.

Mold exposure can cause congestion, a sore throat, coughing, burning eyes or skin rash. Employers should provide PPE and train workers on taking precautions such as identifying and correcting moisture problems, making sure that work areas are well ventilated and using hand, eye and respiratory protection.

Chemical and biological hazards
Floodwaters can be contaminated with chemicals from underground storage tanks, raw sewage, dead animals, rotting food and more. To prevent contamination, employers should provide to workers protective clothing such as chemical-resistant outer clothing, boots, protective eye goggles, and plastic or rubber gloves. Employers should also train workers on proper hygiene practices to avoid exposure to waterborne illness.

Just 6 inches of swift-moving water can sweep an adult off their feet. To reduce the risk of injuries from falling and/or drowning in floodwaters, employers should assign multiple workers to these tasks and provide a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) when working in or near water.

Hypothermia and heat stress
Hypothermia can occur when working in water that is cooler than 75°F. To help prevent hypothermia, employers should ensure workers wear proper clothing, take frequent short breaks in warm, dry shelters and work during the warmest part of the day.

Workers also risk heat stress when working outdoors in high temperatures. Employers should ensure workers wear proper clothing, use sunscreen, frequently hydrate and take frequent short breaks in the shade or indoors, if possible.

— Grace Cross


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