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Clean-up after cyclones storms and floods

After the recent floods builders and trades will be returning to site but there is a lot risk factors that need to be taken into consideration when cleaning up after major weather events.

If you need to carry out clean-up, demolition or refurbishment at a site affected by recent floods you will need to plan with care. Careful planning will help you to reduce the risk of injury and illness to yourself and others.

Below are some of the safety issues to consider before commencing and in undertaking the clean up work.

Planning the work

Carefully assess the work to be done in consultation with workers. Identify the hazards likely to be present or likely to arise during the work. Consider how the hazards can affect people and what could go wrong during the work. This will help you to assess the risks to health and safety.

Below are some common hazards of sites affected by cyclones, storms and floods.

Some hazardous tasks may need people with specialist skills and experience. For example, tree or branch felling; cleaning-up mould; removing hazardous chemical contaminants.

There may be a sense of urgency for some tasks.  Beware this can increase risks to health and safety.

You will need safe work method statements (SWMS) for all high risk construction work.  Prepare the SWMS in consultation with all relevant persons involved in the work. Relevant persons include workers undertaking the work and mobile plant operators. You should also include structural engineers, emergency services, principal contractor, and demolition contractor.

Give workers an induction or briefing about the site before work starts. Let them know the dangers, safety precautions, control measures and the provisions of SWMS and the emergency plan.

Make sure the work is properly coordinated. For example, provide means for regular communication, sufficient supervision and rest breaks.

Operators of plant and vehicles need to be competent in using the equipment for the intended tasks. Check that workers required to operate plant have the necessary skills and licenses where required.

Make sure that workers have the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) and that it is in good working order.  Make sure workers receive appropriate instruction and training on the fitting, use and maintenance of PPE.

Consider the risk of decreased vision due to rain, mud and other conditions.  If necessary plan for extra lighting to enable safe working conditions.

Consider changed ground conditions that may increase risk of bogging and roll over of plant or vehicles.

Consider risks from nearby roads and traffic.  Planning may need to include a traffic management plan. This should include clear vehicle access to work areas.  Include also space to maneuver vehicles and for delivery of materials and storage.

Site facilities, first aid, emergencies

Workers will need facilities for taking meals, rest breaks, cleaning up and first aid.

You will need to provide toilets and hand hygiene measures, including antiseptic hand cleanser.

Make sure that clean drinking water is available. Note that in flood-affected areas, the local water supply may not be safe due to contamination.

Identify the hazards that could result in an injury or illness requiring first aid. Make sure first aid supplies and access to a trained first aider are available. You may need to consider getting extra first aid supplies for frequent treatment of cuts, splinters and dust in the eyes.

Have a documented plan for emergencies. Make sure workers are aware of the plan and the emergency assembly point.

Specific hazards


Building materials from before 1990 often contain asbestos. For example, fences, cladding, eaves, switchboards, vinyl tiles and their glues, and sheeting behind wet areas.

Before entering a flood or storm damaged property ask for the asbestos register. Make sure an assessment includes the amount, type, location and condition of any asbestos present.

Any asbestos or asbestos contaminated soil or debris to will need removal before the rectification work. Visit the website of your health and safety regulator for specific removal and safety requirements.

For more information refer to HIA’s information sheets:

  • Home renovations and asbestos
  • Asbestos Removal Regulations

Electrical, gas and underground services

Are there electrical services or powerlines overhead? Are there electrical, gas or other services underground?  If there are, make sure it is safe before entering the affected area.

Check that the site is safe from low or damaged power lines and electrical cables. Get safety clearance before working on or near any affected building or structure.

If you will be working in the vicinity of essential services, make sure you know their location. Call Dial Before you Dig on 1100 to find out.

If there are solar panels, beware that they may be creating current and may be ‘live’ even if grid-supplied power is disconnected. Where solar panels are present, get an electrician to make the system safe before proceeding.

Unstable structures

Are there structures in the work area that are likely to be unstable? Is the ground stable? Are mudslides possible?

Consider that some structures or their supports may be weaker. For example, damaged building foundations, holes, tree branches at risk of falling, or trees that may fall due to a disturbed or insecure root base.

Consider other possible falling objects. If necessary barricade and signpost danger areas to prevent entry.


Make sure the work is planned and undertaken by people who understand the structure, or the part of the structure to be demolished

Consider the possibility of creating instability from removing things in the wrong order.

Check for underground, overhead or concealed services (e.g. gas, water, electricity) before commencing work.

Does the work involve using powered mobile plant under or near powerlines or electrical installations? If so, you will need to make sure the plant is only operated within the safety clearances of your local electricity supply authority.

Oxy-fuel cutting and other types of cutting during demolition may pose a fire hazard. Where practicable, use methods that do not involve ‘hot work’.

If structures contain asbestos, it will need removal before demolition or refurbishment.  This HIA information sheet explains the requirements for removing asbestos: Asbestos Removal Regulations.

Demolition can generate dust that is likely to contain respirable crystalline silica. Make sure to use dust suppression measures such as wetting and damping down. For more information refer to HIA’s information sheet: Silica Dust Hazards and Solutions

Working at height

Work from the ground as much as possible.

Make sure work at height is from a stable structure. For example, one fitted with protective guardrails and midrails, or use a scaffold or an elevating work platform. 

Consider how adverse weather conditions may increase risks of falling.

Before accessing a roof, find out if it is sound and free from brittle or fragile roofing material. If the roof has safety mesh check that it is in good condition.  Don’t walk on asbestos cement roofs as they can give way, even if undamaged.

Do not set-up ladders on soft ground. Extension ladders should be set at a slope of 1:4 and secured at the top and bottom. Ladders should extend past the upper level by at least 1m.

Make sure others on site are not in a danger zone for any items that may be dropped or fall from above. If necessary barricade and signpost danger areas to prevent entry.

For more information refer to HIA’s information sheets:

  • Managing the risks of falling from roofs
  • Scaffolding Safety Basics

Hazardous manual tasks

Risks of manual handling during clean-up and demolition may be greater due to the diverse range of materials handled.

Consider using powered machinery for heavy lifting as much as possible. Where this is not practicable, use mechanical aids such as trolleys and wheel barrows. Use long handled equipment such as shovels and brooms.

Organise rubbish skips to be as close as possible to the work to minimise manual handling.

Where team lifting is the last resort, provide adequate numbers of people. Consider rotating workers through various tasks to reduce the risk of injury from hazardous manual tasks.

Hazardous materials, chemicals and dangerous goods

Identify any likely hazardous materials, chemicals and dangerous goods that may be present. 

Examples include silica, asbestos, lead, contaminated dust, and synthetic mineral fibres (insulation). Look for acids, pool chemicals, petrol, diesel, kerosene, LPG and oils. 
Check product labels and safety data sheets for information on safe handling and removal. You may need to isolate hazardous materials, chemicals and dangerous goods from general waste.  You may need specialist advice for safe handling, storage, transport and disposal of some of these.

Use appropriate PPE, such as chemical resistant gloves and safety glasses if you know or suspect chemicals in the clean-up area.

Beware of 'empty' tanks and containers that may still have some flammable liquid or vapour that can cause an explosion.

Biological hazards

Cyclones, storms and floods increase the risk of infectious diseases.

Raw sewerage brought to the surface might have contaminated, surfaces, items and water. Seek advice from the health authority, sewage authority and local council before commencing work.

Consider the need for immunization against infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B and Tetanus.

Wet surfaces may have mould.  There may be more mosquitos, leeches and other parasites. Make sure insect repellent is available.

Brief and induct workers on all relevant hazards and safety control measures before commencing work.

Good personal hygiene is critical. Make sure workers wash their hands well after contact with mud, flood water and contaminated items and equipment. Use a suitable disinfectant solution to disinfect tools and equipment.

Make sure workers have the PPE needed to avoid contact with potential contaminants. Wear rubber boots, gloves, masks and safety goggles for contaminated flood water/mud. It is advisable to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers or disposable overalls. This will minimise contact with insects, parasites, bacteria and other contaminants.

Airborne mould spores can cause serious illness and respiratory disease. If mould is present, the hazard will need treatment before further work can proceed.  Disturbing mouldy areas may spread mould further throughout the building.

PPE should worn when investigating or approaching an area affected by mould. Suitable PPE includes disposable overalls and a properly fitted P2 mask / respirator. Gloves and safety goggles designed to prevent the entry of dust and small particles should also be worn.

Safe use of tools

Work out what tools and equipment you will needed to do the work in a safe manner.

Make sure tools and equipment are fit for purpose and have appropriate guards in place. Follow the safety instructions of the manufacturer.

Tools such as chainsaws and power tools need competent operators.

Avoid using mains or generator powered equipment and extension leads above or near water. Wherever possible, use battery-powered tools and equipment.

To find out more, contact HIA’s Safety Services team.

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