Emergency Preparedness and Response, Injuries and Illness, Personnel Safety

Four Strategies to Prepare for an Emergency

Whether it’s a fire, active shooter, natural disaster, or pandemic, employees should be trained to handle all types of emergencies. BLR Legal Editor Elizabeth Dickinson, J.D., recently spoke at a BLR Trends in 20 Webinar, where hot topics are discussed in 20 minutes, entitled “Prepare for the Next Emergency: Strategies to Address it with Confidence.”

Dickinson talked about four strategies that she believes will help organizations understand how to prepare for and respond to a variety of emergencies. With this information, employers can help train their employees to help keep them safe and for business continuity.

She said that these strategies come after the COVID-19 pandemic, active shooter situations at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store, a Texas elementary school, and an Indiana shopping mall along with several recent natural disasters. These emergencies highlight the need for employers and employees to work together to maintain a safe working environment, property evacuate a building, shelter in place, and protect themselves and their worksites.

Four strategies

1. Develop an Emergency Action Plan

Most workplaces are required to have an emergency action plan. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires specific procedures in sites with highly hazardous chemicals. All workplaces should have automatic fire detection systems. 

“The purpose of an EAP is for employers to follow safety procedures to protect their employees from emergencies that could reasonably be expected to occur,” Dickinson said. The plan should, among other items, include evacuation procedures, procedures for employees required to remain for critical operations before evacuation, and proper training for employees.

The following are examples of emergencies employers should be prepared for:

  • Fires
  • Chemical spills and releases
  • Natural disasters like flooding and hurricanes
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Active shooter
  • Pandemic

2. Develop an evacuation plan

Employers should have a safe evacuation plan for all employees. Most have a written plan to meet OSHA’s “General Duty Clause” requirement. That plan would include how to evacuate in the event of a fire, chemical explosion or spill, workplace violence, or a natural disaster.

When it comes to exit doors, they should be unlocked and unobstructed. Buildings should have at least two exit routes and employees should meet at a designated assembly area. Employers should be conducting regular evacuation drills. Some states have requirements in addition to those of OSHA.

3. Develop a business continuity plan

This plan ensures that facility operations can continue even if they are disrupted by a disaster.

Plan contents, according to Dickinson, should include:

  • Prioritized list of critical operations
  • List of crucial staff members
  • Telecommuting policy
  • Important government and organization contacts
  • Appointment of a crisis manager
  • Identification of business continuity team members
  • During a pandemic, acute respiratory illness transmission control measures
  • Strategy to notify customers and meet their needs

4. Develop a shelter-in-place plan

When deciding whether to evacuate or shelter in place, determine what is safer. Be sure to shelter in place during natural weather disasters, nearby chemical explosions, and active shooter situations, if evacuation is not possible.

When choosing a shelter location, ensure that it has space and access to restrooms for all employees and visitors as well as emergency supplies like bottled water, a hard-wired telephone, nonperishable food, battery-powered radios, first aid supplies, and flashlights and batteries.

Based on the emergency, here are few options to consider:

  • Hurricanes: Shelter in place in an interior room without windows, or a hallway on the lowest floor away from doors and windows. Stay away from filing cabinets and electrical power.
  • Chemical Spills: Choose a location with few or no vents in an interior room on ground level. Seal in gaps in doors and windows and be sure to shut off heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, fans, and heat pumps.
  • Active Shooter: Hide out of the shooter’s view. Lock and block access to the hiding place. Call 911 when it’s safe. Silence phones and remain quiet.

To learn more

In all types of emergencies, employers should ensure that employees do everything they can to stay safe. To watch the webinar on-demand, click here.

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