Comcare issues guidance over flood and storm preparedness and response

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 6 January, 2022 - 12:00
Industry news
National News

Comcare recently published guidance on flood and storm preparedness after the Bureau of Meteorology recently declared a La Niña, the climate driver typically associated with wet conditions for eastern, northern and central parts of Australia over summer.

The guidance includes information on work health and safety duties for employers and workers, working in floods and flood recovery, planning for clean-up and recovery work, mental health and wellbeing and notification of incidents.

With some parts of Australia already starting to experience flood, this season's severe weather outlook suggests the risk of flooding is above average with a slightly above average risk of tropical cyclones.

Floods and storms, including tropical cyclones, are unpredictable seasonal hazards, presenting a broad range of health and safety risks that need to be considered and controlled.

La Niña describes a pattern of ocean temperatures that sees warmer waters in the western Pacific, which in turn drives increased atmospheric moisture and rainfall, including heavy rainfall, over Australia.

The Bureau’s head of operational climate services, Andrew Watkins said several climate drivers are likely to create continuing wet conditions for parts of eastern Australia this summer.

“Over winter and spring we saw a negative Indian Ocean Dipole, a pattern of ocean temperature patterns in the oceans to our west that was favourable to rainfall over Australia, and a dominant influence on our climate,” he said.

“While this event is approaching its end, warmer waters to the north-west of Australia may persist, and continue to increase the chance of rainfall.

“The big driver looking at the months ahead is La Niña, which is now established in the Pacific Ocean for the second year in a row.”

Even though this will be a wetter summer for many, Watkins said the outlook was an important reminder for the community to always be vigilant for the potential risks of severe weather.

Bushfire risk may not be as high this summer as in some recent years, but bushfires happen every summer in Australia and even short periods of hot and windy weather will raise the fire risk.

“This year we need to be extra careful about grass and crop fires, particularly across inland areas and in the southwest of the country where we have had good growth over winter and spring,” Watkins said.

“The risk of heatwaves is about average this year, and it’s important to remember that heatwaves are Australia's most deadly natural hazard. Warm nights after hot days in particular make heat stress a significant health risk.”