With many parts of the South West and the South East badly affected by flooding – in some cases since the start of the year – the TUC is urging employers to be sympathetic to the problems being faced by thousands of employees whose homes are under water.

The floods are having a devastating impact on communities in flooded areas, and in guidance published yesterday (thursday), the TUC says that employers should be offering extra support to staff whose homes are either already partially submerged or are at risk from the rising floodwater.

Allowing staff to use showers and washing facilities at work as well as giving their affected workers time off to cope with the problems they face would be an enormous help to the thousands of families struggling to get through this extremely difficult time, says the TUC.

The TUC’s guidance aims to help employers and employees ensure that workplaces situated within flooded areas are safe before anyone returns to work. It says that people should not try to return to work until it is safe to do so and the floodwater has subsided because attempting to drive or walk through flooded streets can be dangerous.

Apart from the obvious risk of vehicles being swept away or breaking down in the floodwater, the TUC advises that even donning wellington boots and attempting to travel to work by foot can prove hazardous.

Much of the floodwater will be murky and is likely to have been contaminated by sewage, says the TUC, making it difficult – even where the levels are shallow – to see any uncovered holes or drains below the surface.

Workplaces fortunate enough to have escaped the floodwater may still find themselves without electricity or running water, and it would be unreasonable and unsafe for employers to expect staff to work until power and water supplies have been restored.

Before any return to work in buildings hit by the floods, union safety reps should meet employers to check first that workplaces are safe for their colleagues to return. This means checking that any affected factory, shop or office is not only dry, but has also been cleaned and disinfected. Portable gas or oil heaters can be used to speed up the drying process, but these should be placed in well-ventilated rooms, away from any flammable materials, says the safety advice.

A qualified electrician should check that any electrical equipment that has come into contact with floodwater is safe to use, and similar checks should take place before the power supply is turned back on. Fire exits, fire alarms and emergency lighting systems will also need to be looked at.

TUC Senior Health and Safety Officer Hugh Robertson said: “Our thoughts go out to all the businesses and individuals whose livelihoods and homes have been affected by the floods. Many people have been evacuated from their homes and are understandably incredibly upset by the damage the water has caused to their properties and most treasured possessions.

“In these difficult circumstances work is likely to be the last thing on people’s minds, but employers whose workplaces have escaped the floodwater or which are in unaffected areas should be sympathetic to the problems being experienced by their employees and allow them time away from work.

“And when the water finally starts to recede, although employers and their staff will be keen for a return to normal as soon as possible, it’s important not to risk avoidable injuries and accidents by doing things in a rush. Employers need to check that their workplaces are safe before asking their staff to come back to work.”