By Cmdr. (Ret.) Laura Weems, CIH, CSP

Working around the water adds safety concerns for employers and employees alike.  With some preparation, training, and a few items of personal protective equipment, the additional risks encountered can be minimized.  Here are the top 7 Preparedness Tips for working around water:

  1. When water is present (e.g., inland, near shore or off-shore) re-evaluate each job task for new hazards posed by the water’s proximity prior to commencing work.  Conducting a job hazard analysis and a risk assessment is recommended in order to be thorough and to document findings.  Brief all of the workers on your findings and control measures as they arrive onsite.
  2. Develop an emergency response plan for water-related emergencies, such as a worker falling into the water, drowning, high currents or wave action, or inclement weather. Train employees on their actions – how to recover a person in the water and what to do if they fall in. Ensure that they are able to reach outside responders (e.g., by radio, phone).
  3. Where the danger of drowning exists, provide U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or buoyant work vests to all employees working over or near water.  Prior to and after each use, inspect work vests and personal floatation devices (PFDs) for defects that could affect strength or buoyancy.  Remove torn, dried out/faded, and defective PFDs from service; destroy before discarding.
  4. Remove slip and trip hazards in the work site that are near the water (such as at the edge of boat or dock).  If removal is not possible, ensure that hazards are well marked and that the workers are notified.
  5. Make sure at least one person in each crew is trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid, and basic emergency-response skills.   If employees are working more than five minutes response time from emergency medical services, workers’ reactions to a water-related emergency could make the difference between life and death.
  6. Provide basic water safety training to all employees and encourage them to learn to swim. Local American Red Cross chapters, community centers, and pool/spa associations that your company might be a member of offer such courses.
  7. Ensure all employees understand the dangers of water, especially moving water as that found in rivers, creeks and flash floods. Even shallow water has proven to be deadly. Water safety must be trained and taken seriously.