When an emergency strikes your workplace, there’s no time for hesitation-or for trying to figure out what to do. To survive an emergency, you and your workforce have to already know what to do. Emergency plans must be well developed, well practiced, and ready to be put into action at a moment’s notice.
Emergency planning and response is one of the most important aspects of safety management-keeping employees safe no matter what.
And that “what” could be a lot of things. For example:
Fires are the most common type of workplace emergency. The National Fire Protection Association reports that a fire department somewhere in America responds to a fire every 16 seconds. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that fires cause as many as 10,000 employee injuries and 200 employee deaths every year. In addition, the United States Fire Administration says that property losses due to industrial fires cost U.S. businesses more than $4 billion a year in property losses and more than $8 billion in business interruption costs.
- Explosions resulting from fires, chemical reactions, combustible dust, or other causes can claim many lives, leave many more badly injured, and destroy property.
- Natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes can strike with little or no warning. Hurricanes and floods may be forecast, but effective emergency action in these situations may nevertheless be required.
- Toxic chemical releases can require emergency response within the workplace and in the surrounding community.
- Workplace violence can erupt at any time in any department. Supervisors, managers, and employees must be prepared to respond quickly and appropriately in these dangerous and sometime life-threatening situations.
- Terrorism, especially since 9/11, has become yet another disaster to add to your list.
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To prepare for all potential threats, you need a sensible planning strategy.
An article in our sister publication, the Cal/OSHA Compliance Advisor, offers some tips applicable in any state.
“Often, businesses don’t prepare for a disaster,” says the Compliance Advisor, “not because they don’t want to but because they think it will involve a resource-intense project, something many small- and medium-sized businesses can ill afford. While disaster preparedness can turn into a multi-headed monster if not properly managed, disaster preparedness doesn’t have to be that way.”
To avoid the “multi-headed monster,” you should:
- Determine a comfortable degree of preparedness. “There are degrees of preparedness,” says the Compliance Advisor. “The bare minimum is that, in a disaster, you can safely evacuate your workers; any processes that could harm workers, the environment, or the public can be secured; and the rest you leave up to whatever outside services may be available. On the other end of the spectrum, you can have all the equipment and supplies to do full disaster response on your own with minimal assistance from outside services.”
- Develop a disaster preparedness checklist. The checklist should include all aspects of emergency response and will help ensure that you anticipate all essential details.
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- Evaluate the “what ifs.” Walk around with your checklist and try to imagine how different emergencies could actually impact your workers and your operations.
- Build your plan step-by-step. Don’t wait until you have all the “i’s” dotted and all the “t’s” crossed. Build your plan piece by piece until you have a comprehensive disaster plan you can live with.
- Document policies and procedures. Write up all emergency policies and procedures and make them available to supervisors and employees.
- Keep your plans up to date. Review your plan annually and revise as necessary when circumstances, hazards, etc., change.
Tomorrow we’ll look at some specific OSHA emergency response requirements, including employee training.
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