Spring Hazards: Teach Your Workers Flood Safety Tips

One of the more common disasters– flooding– can happen at any time, in both inland low-lying areas, as well as waterfront, river and coastal areas. Although a significant danger in all seasons, spring is a particular risk for serious community or localized flooding, due to frozen ground which is unable to absorb heavy rain, causing standing or rushing water.

Currently, areas in the Midwest, (such as the Indiana cities of Goshen, Elkhart, and South Bend) are experiencing major disasters due to heavy rains.  But flooding can transpire in any area of the country, and you and your employees should be prepared.

Flooding and driving are highly hazardous conditions:

  • In 2015, about 64 percent (112 out of 176) of the flood deaths involved vehicles.
  • In 2016, vehicles have also been involved in many of the flood-related fatalities.
  • Many of those involved in flood-related vehicle deaths were good swimmers.
  • According to NOAA, most fatalities occurred when the individual was trying to cross a flooded road.

FEMA states:

  • Less than 6 inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and potential stalling.
  • Less than 1 foot of water will float many vehicles.
  • Less than 2 feet of rushing water will carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickup
  • Walking through water is also dangerous. Less than 6 inches of flowing water can knock someone off their feet.

As serious flooding doesn’t happen often in some areas, your employees may not be familiar with the safety steps to follow.

In addition, driving through water can ruin company vehicles, and be extremely costly for owners. Only a cup of water taken into the engine can cause stalling and possibly ruin the vehicle. Water also plays havoc with car electronics, and can cause airbags to discharge suddenly, even much later following exposure to water and subsequent corrosion. According to a 2017 Consumer Reports article, “It can take months or years for corrosion to find its way to the car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers.”

During Heavy Rain:

  • Keep headlights on due to decreased visibility
  • If the vehicle breaks down, don’t prop the hood open while waiting for roadside assistance. The engine can be harder to start if the electronics are rain soaked. Use emergency flashers (and flares if available).
  • While driving in heavy rain, increase distance between you and car ahead of you, twice the normal distance or more depending on visibility and road conditions. In the spring, if temperatures drop rain puddling may also freeze, resulting in additional hazards.
  • If your steering feels light or unresponsive due to hydroplaning, ease off the accelerator and slow down gradually.
  • Apply car length rules for safety distance to allow for adequate stopping time. The amount of stopping distance depends on the road conditions, your vehicle, the visibility and your speed.
  • When the car ahead of you passes a fixed object (like a telephone poll or sign), begin counting “one thousand one, one thousand two…”.If you get to “one thousand four” before you pass the object, then you are four seconds behind that car.
  • For passenger vehicles and light vans: (not semi or straight trucks, which require increased spacing from vehicles to allow for stopping)
    • When driving between speeds of 35 and 55 mph, in ideal driving conditions (good road surface, good weather, light traffic): 3 Seconds is usually appropriate.
    • When driving at higher speeds, 55-75 mph, OR during heavy traffic, rain or on wet pavement, increase distance to 4 seconds.
    • When driving on icy, snow covered or potentially flooded roads, increase distance to 7-8 seconds.

Flooded areas and standing water

  • Avoid driving through standing water if you can.
  • If flood water is moving or deeper than 4 inches, do not drive into the flood water.
  •  If you’re not sure about the water depth, let approaching cars pass through first.
  • Avoid making waves when driving through the water.
  • After driving through puddles or standing water, test brakes.
  • Fast-moving water (water moving more than 2 mph) is very powerful. Take care or your car could be swept away.
  • In water moving 2 mph, standing is difficult. At 4 mph, water will knock a person down.
  • Manhole covers can be lifted beneath flooded water. Sticks, logs or other debris can be swept onto roadways under water.  Be wary of hazards under water.
  • Water that is cold can cause hypothermia, as well as reduce muscle strength. Only twenty minutes of cold, soaked clothing or walking in water that is 53F, can reduce muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. This means you may be more prone to being swept away or unable to swim to safety in cold water.
  • Water levels can change quickly. Even without current rain, cresting of rivers or waterways can occur days later, causing additional or deepening of flooded areas.
  • Always assume that flooded water is contaminated. In urban areas, bacteria from sewers and drains can cause disease. In rural floods, contamination can occur through animal waste and agricultural chemicals

And of course, flooding can impact properties, causing catastrophic damage and potential business failure. Plan ahead for disasters by having a viable business continuity plan or BCP.  A business continuity plan, is critical for operations, because it applies secondary operation locations, and considers vital systems (such as finance, logistics and IT) as well as designates methods to communicate with the public, vendors and key staff that must be used in a disaster.

Small businesses that impacted by disasters are at particular risk for organizational demise. According to FEMA, roughly half of all small businesses never reopen following a disaster.  And the longer your business suffers downtime, the less likely it is to survive the crisis. Fema states, “90 percent of smaller companies fail within a year unless they can resume operations within 5 days.”

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