11 January 2021

How to protect your Business from floods: A Risk Mitigation Approach


Business interruption due to floods has decreased in recent years as companies take steps to mitigate the risks; yet there is still room for improvement. The UK is currently going through a flood-rich period and this is likely to get worse with climate change.

According to the Environment Agency, preparing for a flood could save your business up to 90% on the cost of lost stock and moveable equipment.

Preparing your business for a flood could help to:

• Protect you and your staff

• Significantly reduce financial losses

• Limit damage to your property, stock and equipment

• Minimise business disruption and continuity, helping to retain clients and contracts

• Maintain customer, supplier and business records

• Obtain insurance cover

• Ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, such as the Occupier’s Liability Act 1984

Draw up your Flood Plan:

As a business, you will likely have various plans and policies already in place, such as Health and Safety and Business Continuity Plans; yet have you also made a Flood Plan to outline how to prepare your business and quickly respond to a flood risk?

Once you have a plan, ensure it is communicated to your staff and that a printed copy is in an accessible place at all times (if the power goes off, any battery operated tablets and phones may shut down at inconvenient times).

It is a good idea to create a ‘grab bag’ or ‘battle box’ containing essential information: this is useful for all kinds of emergency or evacuation situations.

Reduce potential flood damage:

However high or low your flood risk, there are various measures you can take to help reduce the damage to your business. Storing valuable items higher up, and making your property more resistant to flooding, will not only help protect you and your premises, but may also reduce your insurance costs and could make the clean-up process quicker and easier.

• Prevent flood water entering your building as far as possible by installing permanent or removable barriers to protect doors, windows and openings, such as airbricks and vents. There are special ‘bungs’ available for drains and toilets, as well as non-return valves for pipework. Such measures can hold back flood waters up to 600mm high, allowing you time to take the further steps.

• Reduce damage flood water causes if it does enter your building by:

(i)                       raising electrical sockets, electrical wiring and controls for ventilation systems

(ii)                     raising equipment and machinery on plinths

(iii)                   using materials that can withstand flooding, for floors and the lower part of walls and staircases.

Your flood preparation does not need to be a costly exercise.

• Back up your customer data on a regular basis.

• Store your customer files and supplier contracts safely.

• Keep your insurance policy in a secure, accessible place, as well as a copy in a ‘Grab bag’ or ‘Battle box’.

• Ensure drains from your premises are running effectively. Modern alternatives to sandbags are available, which are lightweight and more effective than traditional sand-and-hessian types. Some types can be sanitised and re-used, while gel-filled sandbags can absorb up to 20 litres of water each.

Advice for your business after flood

The first priority after any flood is the safety of yourself, your employees, contractors and members of the public who may enter your premises.

Never re-enter premises until you are certain they are safe. As well as possible contamination by sewage or fuels, there is a risk of damaged electrics and potential damage to the structure of your building.

Firstly, if you are insured, contact your provider as soon as possible. You must also ensure that you comply with your duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, if staff are carrying out work activities that they would not usually undertake in normal circumstances.

Clean up: Health risks can be minimised by taking general hygiene precautions. Throughout this difficult time, it is vital that the health and safety of you and your staff is not put at risk.

You must ensure:

• Your staff are aware of precautions whilst carrying out the clean-up and wear suitable protective clothing.

• Debris from furnishings, equipment, the river etc. must be handled with great caution to avoid coming into direct contact with contaminated rubbish or sharp objects.

• Do not dispose of any equipment before discussing this with your insurers.

• Ensure surfaces are disinfected, in accordance with the manufacturers recommended instructions.

• To begin drying out your premises, introduce as much ventilation as possible, apply gentle heat and you may need to use a dehumidifier.

• If using a petrol or diesel generator to power such equipment, ensure it is placed outside of the building to avoid harmful fumes building up.

Rodent infestations: flood water may have disturbed rodents, leading to damage to electrics and furniture. A pest control contractor should be engaged. Installing non-return valves (NRVs) in sewer pipes stops rodents gaining access via downstairs toilets, as well as preventing raw sewage flooding.

Electrical safety:

Electrical equipment and cabling can pose major risks if they have been flooded.

• Switch off the electrical supply at the mains, if safe to do so, then individual items of equipment if you have not already done so.

• Enlist an approved electrical contractor before using damaged equipment.

• If you are concerned about mains, contact your electricity supplier.

• Once power is safely restored, do not operate electrical equipment in or near any remaining water, unless it is specially designed for the purpose (e.g. submersible pumps).

Gas safety:

Gas equipment and installations pose significant risks if they have been damaged.

• Call your gas suppler immediately if you smell gas, or suspect gas has escaped.

• Turn off the gas control valve (usually by the gas meter) if safe to do so.

• Ensure all gas appliances are turned off.

• Arrange for a Gas Safe Registered engineer to inspect gas appliances before using the equipment again.

Water supply:

The quality of your drinking water supply may have been affected. If unsure, contact the supplier for your area. Ensure any taps that have been submerged in contaminated flood water are cleaned up using bleach solution and run for a few minutes prior to the water being used. Special consideration must be given to facilities such as lifts, hoists, swimming pools and chemicals. Do not forget to discuss with your insurer and landlord (if any) what flood resilience measures can be built in as part of your repairs.

How to manage a water damage insurance claim

Irrespective of your flood management plan, there are times when water damage will eventually be caused by a storm. In these instances, it is worth following these water damage insurance claims tips:

·        Stay away from buildings, walls and trees that appear to be weakened from the flood.

·        Monitor local alert and warning systems, as more flooding could be expected.

·        Carefully inspect your property, checking for any gas leaks, loose power lines and structural damage before you enter.

·        Take pictures and videos of any damage caused to your building and the contents for when you submit the claim.

·        Get in touch with us, as we will be able to advise you on your level of cover and the claims process.

Whilst it is undeniable that a flood event and the resulting water damage can have a potentially devastating impact on your business, the risks associated with flooding are becoming increasingly severe as climate change progresses. Protect your long-term interests by having the right plans and insurance cover in place.

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