Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. These are good words to live by when you think of emergency preparedness for your workplace. But really how prepared are you? Most businesses will maintain the requisite fire extinguishers and first aid kits, and may adopt an ‘it could never happen here’ attitude when it comes to other potential risks. You definitely don’t want to have regrets after-the-fact when it comes to your safety readiness.
Any job site has the potential for a number of different types of hazards. Even with the maintenance of high work and safety standards, there are a lot of variables in-play that can cause an accident at any time. Your ability to react effectively to a variety of emergency situations is the key.
What Is an Emergency?
An emergency can be defined as any unplanned event that:
- Causes significant injuries to workers, customers or the public
- Involves other serious medical incidents (heart attack etc.)
- Requires a shut-down or major disruption to your business operations
- Results in significant physical property damage or environmental impact
- Results in damage from extreme environmental conditions
These types of incidences could include:
- Fire or explosion
- Serious injury or death of an employee
- Hazardous materials incident
- Spills of flammable liquids
- Major structural failure or collapse
- Natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados or flooding
- Confined space incidents and rescue
- Severe weather conditions including extremes in heat, cold, snow, ice or wind
Why Have An Emergency Plan?
Emergencies are non-selective, and all businesses and facilities are at risk depending on the nature of the work performed. Every emergency causes some degree of loss, but the extent of that loss can be reduced, and the time required to return to normal can be shortened, with effective planning and preparation. Many small to medium sized businesses never fully recover after a major emergency situation. You don’t want to be a part of that statistic.
Aside from saving lives, minimizing injuries and limiting property, equipment and environmental damage, a solid emergency plan is necessary for Occupational Health & Safety regulatory compliance, maintaining insurance standards and limiting corporate liability. Additionally, a thorough planning process can serve to highlight any deficiencies or gaps that may have existed in your safety program previously. It also helps to promote awareness and demonstrates your commitment to providing a safe workplace.
The Planning Process
This stage will de different for every organization and will be dependent on a number of things including the scope and scale of the operation, number of workers and their shifts, the nature of the work performed, physical location and proximity to emergency services.
Here are some planning basics:
Establish the Planning Team
This first step sets the stage for the whole process by determining who will be involved in the various aspects of analysis and planning. Be sure to address specific Occupational Health & Safety representation, local government and emergency services officials where applicable.
Analyze Capabilities & Hazards
Although emergencies by definition are sudden events, their occurrence can be predicted with some degree of certainty. A listing of the hazards that might pose a threat should be compiled, including records of past incidences, and then you would apply occupational experience and consultation from experts to assess specific vulnerabilities. The possibility of one event triggering others must also be considered. For instance, an explosion may start a fire that in turn could cause structural failure and/or the release of toxic substances. All scenarios, hypothetical or otherwise, need to be addressed.
Your plan should as detailed and as comprehensive as possible so that nothing falls through the cracks. It should include, but not be limited to:
- Specific roles, responsibilities, levels of authority and alternates
- Alerts & communications
- Fire control
- Specific emergency response & containment procedures
- Medical response
- Evacuation procedures including staff assembly points
- Site & floor plans plus evacuation routes
- Search & rescue protocol
- Training & drills
Now that the structure and protocols are in-place, it’s time to put your plan into action. Ensure that all program elements are executed as planned, and accurately monitor/document all initiatives to ensure immediate on ongoing compliance.
Here are some general tips on what to consider when putting together your plan:
- Be sure to have alternates or back-ups within your emergency procedure personnel structure. The whole system shouldn’t fall apart because someone happens to be on vacation.
- Don’t compromise on quality or quantity when it comes to emergency and medical response equipment and supplies. Saving a few dollars today can have serious repercussions long-term in the event of a serious incident.
- To avoid confusion, only one type of signal should be used for an evacuation order. Commonly used for this purpose are sirens, fire bells, whistles, flashing lights or paging system announcements in noisy environments.
- Create specific procedures and assignments to accommodate those workers with disabilities or special needs
- Be sure to keep evacuation and alternate escape routes unobstructed at all times
- Containing the extent of property or equipment loss should begin only when the safety of all staff and those in close proximity has been clearly established
- Specify safe assembly locations for staff to gather off-site for head counts and ID. Also have a process in-place to account for non-employees who may have been on-site.
- Your plan should include methods for the simultaneous treatment of injured personnel and the search for anyone missing during an emergency situation
- Consider your alternate sources or locations for medical aid when normal facilities may be in the danger zone
- Determine what you need to provide for shelter and transportation for employees in the event that an evacuation is necessary
- Ensure uninterrupted access to personal, medical and contact info for all employees
- When communicating your emergency plans to workers, ensure that all applicable languages have been considered
- Your plan should be revised on an ongoing basis whenever new safety shortcomings become known. All procedures should be reviewed at least annually in any case. Changes in plant infrastructure, processes, materials used and key personnel are occasions for updating the plan.
- Provision must be made for the thorough training of both individuals and teams if they are expected to perform adequately in an emergency. Training must be maintained and refreshed, with special attention being paid to new or temporary employees.
- Hold emergency drills at least once a year to ensure that employees know what to do in an emergency and to test the effectiveness of emergency exit routes and procedures. Keep records of such drills.
- Include responsibilities for main power and gas shut-offs as part of the containment process
- Alternate sources of emergency power such as portable generators should always be available
- Include gas and radiation detection equipment as part of your response gear
- Aside from injury treatment for your first aid supplies, include resuscitation equipment such as ventilators and defibrillators, in addition to training for responders
Every year emergencies take their toll on businesses and industries in lives, property damage and in dollars. These losses can be limited however, with the application of proper planning, training, communications and safety equipment.