QLD and NSW safety regulators issue flood clean-up warnings

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.
Friday, 4 March, 2022 - 12:30
Industry news
New South Wales

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland recently urged workers, helpers and homeowners to clean up safely following Queensland’s recent deluge which has left many properties and businesses flooded.

The best way to check electrical safety is to use a licensed electrician to inspect and carry out verification tests on your switchboard, wiring, equipment and appliances that may have been water damaged, said the head of the state’s electrical safety office, Donna Heelan

“If there’s any chance they’ve been damaged by water, stay away from switchboards, and warn others to do the same,” Heelan said.

“If the rain has got into your roof space, make sure you turn off the power before you go up there to check for damage.

“Have a licensed electrician check any electrical appliances or equipment you reckon may have been submerged or water-logged.

“And never, ever be tempted to do your own electrical work. The golden rule is never, under any circumstances, do it yourself as this is potentially life-threatening.”

During extreme weather events, electricity supplies are often cut, and portable generators are used, however, Heelan recommends these portable power supplies should only be used for essential equipment, such as fridges.

“Only connect your generator to your house if you have had an electrical contractor fit a proper generator change-over switch with the appropriate generator socket,” she said.

“Do not connect a generator to your house using a powerpoint on a power circuit or any other connection point.

“This is illegal and dangerous to your family, your neighbours and to any emergency workers in the area attempting to restore power. It could energise the powerlines and cause an electric shock to anyone coming into contact with them.

“Plugging the generator straight into your house circuit could cause the generator to fail and lead to a fire or damage the generator and circuits.”

SafeWork NSW also urged people to be wary of floodwaters and muddy soil that could be contaminated by an infectious zoonotic disease.

Leptospirosis is transmitted to humans from domestic and wild animals including mice and rats, livestock, pigs, pets and wildlife. It can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills, headaches, muscle aches, cough, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and conjunctivitis.

SafeWork NSW director of health and safe design, Jim Kelly, said outbreaks are common after floods and are usually associated with floodwater contaminated with the urine or tissues of infected animals.

“People most at risk are those who have close contact with animals or who are exposed to water, mud, soil, or plants that have been contaminated,” Kelly said.

“This could be anyone in a flood scenario as the contaminated water and mud are spread across properties and many people are involved in rescues, repairs and clean-up work.

“Obviously it is difficult to avoid contact with floodwaters but if possible, wear protective clothing such as waterproof shoes or boots and gloves (even dishwashing gloves) and ensure broken skin is covered with a waterproof dressing.

“Anyone involved in clean-up efforts should also wear goggles and an apron, especially if working with animals and make sure to shower and wash cuts and grazes with soap.”

Kelly said symptoms usually develop between five and 14 days following infection – although it can develop from two to 30 days and last from a few days to three weeks, or longer.

SafeWork NSW also issued a safety warning about cleaning and/or removing asbestos-containing materials after storms and floods.

Buildings built before 1990 may contain asbestos in the form of flat or corrugated sheets (fibro) used for walls, ceilings, asbestos backed vinyl floor coverings, roofing, or in products such as pipes, electrical conduit and eaves.

A site assessment to identify asbestos can be undertaken by a licensed asbestos assessor or occupational hygienist. In some cases, emergency services may undertake this role in an emergency situation.

General household debris, such as kitchen benchtops, chests, wardrobes, shelves and cabinets are unlikely to contain asbestos and can be disposed of without any concern with general rubbish.