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Working environment: Water rescue and flooding

Hazard Knowledge

At an incident, personnel may be required to conduct operational activity near to bodies of water, including lakes, reservoirs, ponds, quarries, streams and swimming pools. There is the possibility of personnel entering the water leading to risk of submersion, entanglement, cold water shock, hypothermia and ultimately drowning.

Cold water shock causes individuals to gasp or hyperventilate on entry into cold water. This may cause them to inhale or swallow water. Taking on small quantities of water may result in drowning.

Control measures for working near bodies of water should also be considered for operational activity near ice and unstable ground such as mud, gravel, earth, slurry and free flowing solids. For the purposes of this guidance, working near unguarded bodies of water and unstable ground should be considered to be within three metres.

In a moving body of water, hazardous debris and materials including large objects can affect personnel or compromise safe systems of work. Harmful substances such as sewage and industrial chemicals can be washed downstream and into the incident area.

Debris may be on the surface, suspended in the water or rolling along the bottom.

See National Operational Guidance: Operations – Unguarded edges

Water holding facilities

Fire and rescue service personnel attending incidents may need to work on or near to water holding facilities. These include:

  • Open vats
  • Tanks
  • Pits
  • Bunds

Flooding as a result of ruptured pipes and overtopping of water storage facilities

For more information on operational activity in the context of docks, harbours, marinas, canals and rivers, see National Operational Guidance: Transport – Waterways

Appropriately trained individuals may work on or in water. The depth, temperature and whether the water is moving or static will affect the hazards associated with working in or on water. See Hazard: Hydrology, for further information on the hazards associated with moving water.

Working near, on or in, water at night or in poor visibility may increase the risk of accidental entry into water and make the identification of hazards and speed of flow difficult.