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How to prepare your business for wet weather caused by the negative Indian Ocean Dipole

Expect a warm, wet spring. The Bureau of Meteorology has declared a negative Indian Ocean dipole – the first in five years. Australia and South-East Asian farmers will benefit – as long as it doesn’t lead to extreme weather, flooding and other risks.

We spoke with Hayden Reed, NTI’s MPE Risk Engineer, Product and Strategy, about the weather’s likely impacts. He also offered some tips on how businesses can ensure they’ll be able to weather the storm. 

First the pandemic, now this

The first thing Hayden notes is that we’re all dealing with COVID-19 and its impacts on our lifestyles and businesses. But it’s important not to let normal business processes, such as routine preparations for a wet summer, fall by the wayside. 

“The main message is just to be aware,” he says. “Every project, site or depot has its risk profile, particularly regarding weather.”

“Keep up with the weather forecasts, take all the usual steps. “

Key concerns

Hayden noted that current concerns about lack of supply – primarily skilled labour, parts and equipment – remain and will potentially be made worse by extreme weather. It’s worth spending some time considering how your business will manage any shortfalls.

More specifically, he says that “slips, trips and falls are a key concern in wet weather, both on job sites and equipment.” It’s worth reviewing your safety measures around these and refreshing your team on them.

Similarly, every site you operate or visit should have a plan that specifies risks and mitigations for workers, plant and premises. Check these plans and ensure they’re up-to-date. Use a toolbox or other forum to remind team members of their requirements and responsibilities.

More specifically, Hayden reflected on critical risks and challenges for several industry sectors:

Civil, earthworks and construction

  • Wet soil is denser than dry soil and is potentially sticky. This change can impact loading and tipping operations and general movements about a site (on foot and in a vehicle).
  • Sites usually manage sediment runoff well, but site plans must provide for the possibility of excessive runoff during long periods of heavy rain.
  • Pits, tunnels, sea walls and the like must be prepared for the increased likelihood of storms and surge.
  • Project delays may arise due to the weather, meaning you should have contingencies in place to manage impacts on staffing, scheduling and project contracts and milestones.
  • Plan your summer site shutdowns carefully, with checklists prepared and circulated to all relevant parties. 

Forestry

  • Access and egress issues mean operators must ensure roads and coupes are comprehensively planned (and safe).
  • Businesses could consider logging safer coupes if inclement weather is forecast.
  • Wet logs are more slippery than dry logs, meaning chains will be a safer option than straps.

Agriculture

  • The forecast is for bumper crops across most commodities (summer and winter), so harvest and subsequent movements will increase.
  • Our cold and wet winter reduced mice populations; there is concern that a warm and wet summer will increase them.

Mining

  • Ensure wet weather action plans are in place, well-understood and effective.
  • Ensure hazardous materials storage sites and practices will be safe and proof against heavy rain and lightning risks.

Get the information you need

Hayden says the Bureau of Meteorology website is an excellent source of information. “There’s lots of detail around water storage and forecast creek flows, for example,” he says.

He also notes that local government websites are also helpful for updates on local conditions and changes. 

Then there are other organisations and their websites, such as Safe Work Australia, the National Farmer’s Federation and other industry-specific sites.

From an insurance perspective, it’s business as usual. It’s worth checking (or check with your broker) that your policies are up-to-date and offer suitable coverage if you need to make a claim.

But the main thing, he stresses, is “to see awareness of the risks for every operation and mitigation strategies deployed.” 

“Make sure you’ve got everything squared away.”

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