Safety in wet and inclement weather

How to keep yourselves and your clients safe in wet and inclement weather

(Estate Agent Today coverage, click here to read full article)

Published 30th January 2015

_DSC0485 (Small)After last years floods, seeing what has gone on in New York this week and with further rain, wind and snow forecast in the UK over the coming weeks, I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage agents to consider the effects that flooding and wet weather can have on their business.

When there is lots of rain, buildings which have never had problems before may start experiencing water ingress. Buildings are not air tight, and it is important to work together to resolve problems which will ensure normal business is disrupted as little as possible.

Water spillages on smooth surfaces can lead to slipping hazards, so ensure you have arrangements in place which include: encouraging people not to shake umbrella’s inside, mats placed inside doorways, and (if necessary) floor surfaces are dry mopped a bit more often.

If your building has an entrance which becomes particularly slippery in wet weather, expert advice should be sought on cleaning and consideration given to treating or altering the surface.

We always advise our clients (who own or manage property) to ensure they engage a qualified building surveyor to undertake building condition surveys at least every five years.

In early 2014, masonry fell from a building opposite Holborn Tube station killing one person and injuring several others. A roof collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London is still also subject to investigation. Regular building condition surveys will identify parts of the building structure which may be affected in inclement weather.

If water is allowed to penetrate fascia there is an increased potential risk of masonry falling. Drains should be kept in good repair and leaks responded to without delay. Regular condition surveys may have to be undertaken more often depending on the age and construction of a building. For this reason, we always recommend you seek expert advice from a building surveyor.

Other issues can arise when wet stormy weather approaches. Anyone in control of buildings is responsible for ensuring the risk from falling objects is managed.

Mature trees should be inspected by a qualified arborologist and their recommendations followed, especially where trees over-hang busy routes or public areas.

What’s more, roofs should be kept clear of items which could become detached in windy weather. Any covers over roof top equipment should be tied down. Regular roof inspections, and good management of contractors, will encourage high standards of housekeeping.

If you have the misfortune of being flooded, standing flood water is a very real potential public health issue, and Environmental Health Officers based at your local council will be very much part of the response team assisting with any required clean up.

Everyone would like to deal with the clean up as quickly as possible, but we would urge everyone to think about their own safety and the safety of those they engage to assist.

It is right to assume that flood water is contaminated with sewage  which contains water borne pathogens potentially leading to illnesses such as dysentery if ingested. It is advisable to use disinfectants to clean down articles and equipment which you can practically clean and discard items that you cannot clean.

The flood water may have swept rubbish and debris into areas of your property or offices. There could be items within this that are sharp or otherwise hazardous, so use tools and equipment to move debris where you can, wearing sturdy gloves and overalls.

Care should be taken when using pumps that emit fumes which can lead to deathly carbon monoxide poisoning, especially in spaces with little or no ventilation (such as basements).

Flood water can also affect electrical systems within buildings; if electrical systems have been exposed to flooding, advice must be sought from a qualified electrician. Do not switch on appliances if you believe they have been affected by water until you have obtained advice.

Some buildings will contain asbestos. Businesses and schools should refer to their asbestos registers when dealing with collapsed ceilings, or before taking up innocuous looking floor tiles which may have an asbestos content.

Lagging around pipes may have come away resulting in exposed fibres. If you know your property contains asbestos, ensure that an asbestos consultant is engaged who can guide you in a practical manner. They will need to survey the building in order to provide the best advice for the safe removal & disposal of damaged material.

*Louise Hosking MCIEH CMIOSH RMaPS AIEMA SIIRSM is a Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner and Director at Hosking Associates Ltd.