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A Guide from Lockton Companies LLP
After adjusting for natural land movements, the average sea level around the UK is now about 10cm higher than it was in 1900 and this rise is expected to continue. However it is not uniform around the UK. The South of England is very gradually sinking, with consequences for the risk of flooding. It has been estimated that around 175,000 businesses are, at present, located on floodplains. With rising tide levels and severe weather events becoming more common, many UK businesses are likely to find themselves increasingly exposed to the risk of flooding. The fact of not having suffered a flood in the past can no longer provide the reassurance that it once did.
Although we can't control the weather or sinking land levels, applying good risk management principles to the risk of flooding is worthwhile. The more at risk your business is, the more important it is for you to take steps to try to manage that risk. It wouldn't be possible, in this update, to cover everything that you need to know and consider. Instead we have tried to provide an overview of a risk managed approach and at the same time included some tips that we hope you will find useful. At the end of the leaflet you will find a list of websites where you can find further useful information.
The UK Government has said that “climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. Rising global temperatures will bring changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events”. For the UK, “climate change means warmer temperatures, more violent storms, wetter winters and drier summers, plus higher sea levels, leading to flooding of coastal areas”.
So how has this manifested itself, so far? Compared with 50 years ago the UK now gets more precipitation (rain and snow falls) in terms of quantity, but on fewer days. Falls therefore are less frequent but heavier when they happen. Accurate predictions are hard to make but the Environment Agency has said that the incidence of serious flooding which used to be expected about once in every 100 years may (with climate change over time) occur more often, perhaps every 10/20 years. The Environment Agency estimates that businesses that take effective action in response to a flood warning, at least eight hours in advance of a flood, can make up to 90% savings on damage to moveable equipment or stock (i.e. up to 20%–70% for pubs/hotels, 70%–90% hi-tech offices, and up to 50% in retail outlets). To achieve this, effective planning and preparations are needed. You can't afford to rely on last minute ad hoc measures.
Whilst the absence of a previous flooding is no longer a useful indicator of risk, a history of flooding (or previous flood warnings) and topography are.
Having decided that there is a risk of flooding you should start to plan for this unwanted event. From your investigations you should have established to what depth it is predicted flood waters might reach. This, together with the nature of your buildings and the likely effect on your business, will influence the decisions that you take and the plans you make.
You will want to make sure that your proposals are appropriate, cost-effective but also adequate to meet the level of risk. If flood warnings are available in your area, make sure that you have arranged to receive them (email, text, twitter, Website alerts e.g. via the Environment Agency’s Floodline Warnings Direct service – Tel: 08459881188), so that you can set into motion the emergency actions that you have planned (appropriate to the flood warning level received) at the earliest possible moment.
Writing a flood plan:
Advice (including an example) on what to include in a flood plan, can be found on the Environment Agency website. Make sure you keep copies of the plan away from the area around your premises that is likely to be flooded. Don't forget routine items that can also be helpful to reduce the risk e.g. periodic inspection and cleaning out of drains, gullies and gutters etc. Make sure that all of the necessary precautions including a risk assessment are followed where work at height is involved (see Work at Height Regulations). Is there a significant risk of my premises being flooded?
Usually when we talk about a flood we are thinking about an inundation of water from a river or the sea. However, torrential rain can often overwhelm drains and roof gutters; so much of the published advice on how to deal with flooding is also useful when considering the risk from surface rainwater from severe storm etc. The Environment Agency (EA) publishes on its website maps which give an indication of the possible floodplains and the likelihood of flooding within those areas (In Scotland see also the Scottish Environment Protection Agency website). You will note from these the EA’s reminder that flood defences are useful but, depending on its type and the severity of the event, can fail. As the saying goes you cannot hold back the tide!
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New buildings: For new structures you would normally try to avoid building on a floodplain. However, where this cannot be avoided, the EA website gives considerable information on the various considerations, i.e. in addition to the government publication Planning Policy Guidance Note 25 (PPG 25). Don't forget to speak to your insurance advisor before embarking on a new project that may involve a floodplain.
If you are considering either a permanent barrier wall around the site or a proprietary barrier system for a building it is best to seek specialist advice e.g. from a qualified building surveyor, architect or structural surveyor, particularly if the expected flood depth is over 600mm, or where the protection of a basement or cellar is involved – see the EA website for further details. With barrier schemes it is also necessary to take into account the risk of flood water entering a building via toilets, drains, etc; so check the need for backflow valves on them, i.e. as part of an overall scheme. Again discuss any proposed scheme with your insurance advisor before placing an order.
Health and safety
If you are an employer you should be familiar with risk assessments. If the risk of your premises being flooded is significant, make sure that you have completed suitable sufficient health and safety risk assessment to cover this hazard and notified your employees who may be affected of the risks involved and what control measures you have taken to address this. Use printed check-lists to support your emergency procedures and flood plan. Keep these up-to-date. Don’t rely on memory!
Are all goods stored up off the floor as high as possible, particularly expensive vulnerable items such as computer servers? Is the lowest rack or shelf height as high as possible? You should be aiming for at least 4inches or 100mm, more where possible. Be aware there may be a height warranty on your policy so check with your insurance advisor. Note: Do not dispose of affected goods until you have spoken to your insurance adviser or the loss adjuster appointed by the insurance company.
Association of British Insurers www.abi.org.uk
Communities and Local Government Department www.communities.gov.uk
English Heritage www.english-heritage.org.uk
Environment Agency www.environment-agency.gov.uk
Flood Protection Association www.floodprotectionassoc.co.uk
Health Protection Agency www.hpa.org.uk
National Flood Forum www.floodforum.org.uk
Scottish Environment Protection Agency www.sepa.org.uk
The EA website includes detailed guidance on safety considerations after a flood. Check your Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Plans and procedures against this advice.