Wet Weather OHS Risks
After long periods of dry weather, we’re relieved in Brisbane to be receiving some solid rain over the last few days. But with more big rain forecast for much of Queensland and NSW over the next week or so, we’ve been thinking about the additional OHS risks that wet weather can bring. And although there will be some workers affected more significantly by wet weather, the risks are not all exclusive to those who work outside. Below we outline some of the most common risks that wet weather can bring, and some general tips for minimising harm arising from these risks.
One of the most straightforward additional risks that wet weather can bring is that in relation to slips, trips and falls. Wet weather can make ground and surfaces soft and/or slippery, increasing the likelihood of slips, trips and falls. This can be especially dangerous when working at height, around moving plant, and so on. And even if you’re working inside, don’t forget that access and egress routes can be affected: those foyer tiles might become slippery when wet feet have tracked water inside, and the carpark might get slimy and slippery when it’s been wet and caked with leaves over a few days. Leaks can also cause slip hazards.
Electrical equipment and infrastructure can pose additional hazards when exposed to moisture. Many items of electrical equipment are not designed for outdoor use, and risk of electric shock and electrocution increases if electrical equipment is wet. And don’t forget that building leaks can cause dangerous electrical hazards and shorts inside.
Travel and use of mobile plant can become even more hazardous when wet weather is an added factor. Driving in rain is significantly more hazardous than doing so in fine weather, and risk of vehicles and plant becoming bogged, aquaplaning, overturning due to unstable ground conditions, and so on increases. Flooding can also be a risk in many areas, affecting work-related travel and workers’ ability and safety in getting to and from work.
Working in wet conditions is best avoided, but if such is required for extended periods, foot, skin, and other health conditions may arise. Wet clothing can chafe and irritate skin, and fungal and other infections can thrive in warm, wet conditions. Feet can develop what are called “immersion foot syndromes” – the most famous of which is trench foot – that can cause serious harm.
Wet and waterlogged ground conditions increase the likelihood of excavation and trench collapses, as well as the aforementioned slips, trips and falls, and vehicle and mobile plant incidents. It also bears consideration that these conditions can persist for extended periods after the wet weather has subsided.
And last but not least, wet weather can come with additional hazards, such as wind, hail and lightning, which can cause a raft of other risks.
Good OHS risk management should take into account adverse conditions such as wet weather, and include arrangements to ensure that health and safety is maintained while these conditions are a factor. Remembering the hierarchy of control, some worthwhile measures might include those such as the following:
- Checking weather forecasts regularly, to ensure appropriate preparations are made for forecasted inclement weather – the Bureau of Meteorology is a great resource
- Communicating and consulting with workers: those affected by the conditions are usually the best placed to determine appropriate controls. Frequent and effective communication and consultation can also assist workers in being prepared for the adverse conditions, and to increase effectiveness and consistency of implementation of controls
- Increasing workplace inspection frequencies: this can assist in early identification of hazards and risks, allowing for prompt and effective mitigation
- Reorganisation of work so workers are sheltered, and potentially risky works are postponed until weather improves
- Marking and isolation of unsafe areas
- Ensuring equipment is designed for conditions that it is used in, and/or moved to suitable locations to eliminate exposure to wet weather
- Providing signage and infrastructure to warn of and minimise effects of the conditions (for example, temporary shelters, “Caution Wet Floor” signs, umbrella stands, floor mats, boot scrapers)
- Ensuring additional SWMSs or other risk management activities are implemented for non-routine tasks, such as recovering bogged equipment
- Maintaining tidy workplaces and good housekeeping practices
- Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and ensuring that clothing and PPE is changed promptly if it becomes wet.
What arrangements are in place for dealing with wet weather at your workplace? Get in contact or comment to share your tips!