On the anniversary of the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001, we can’t help but think about how the world has changed since that day from a safety standpoint. Homeland Security, air travel restrictions, security scanners, even government review of Internet activity are all part of the post 9/11 world. And as we reflect and honor the lives lost, the innocent victims, especially those who rushed towards danger on that tragic day, we have a greater awareness of how truly vulnerable we are and how things can change so quickly.
Emergencies and disasters can happen anywhere and anytime, even in the workplace. All of us could be faced with an emergency and forced to evacuate our facility when we least expect it. Whether natural or manmade, emergencies happen in the workplace, and it is vital to have a well-conceived action plan to protect our workers and our business.
Some of the emergencies that could threaten our workers or shutdown business operations include:
■ Fires ■ Toxic gas releases
■ Floods ■ Chemical spills
■ Explosions ■ Radiological accidents
■ Hurricanes ■ Civil disturbances
We’ve seen in the news all too often someone seeking revenge in the workplace. A disgruntled worker returns with a weapon… and it results in bodily harm, trauma and even death. Is your organization prepared for workplace violence at your facility? Are there safeguards in place for the unthinkable when the unthinkable happens?
Create a Task Force
Consider creating a task force to prepare for the worst-case scenarios at your workplace. What would happen if a gunman gained access to your building? Where will people go if they had 60 seconds to react and take cover from an impending tornado? Most companies prepare for a fire, but do they prepare for violence or an explosion? What does your safety training cover? An emergency action plan as designated by an emergency task force should be shared with all employees. And depending on the likelihood of a specific type of emergency, the procedures should be practiced in drills in preparation should the unthinkable happen.
Not all employers are required to establish an emergency action plan. But even if you are not specifically required to do so, compiling an emergency action plan is a good way to protect yourself, your employees, and your business during an emergency. Putting together a comprehensive emergency action plan that deals with all types of issues specific to your worksite is not difficult and provides a safety knowledge that at the very least will create a peace of mind to those tasked with safety responsibilities and to those who would not know what to do in an emergency.
Red Cross Guidelines
The American National Red Cross issued guidelines* in 2009 on having an emergency preparedness plan in place for business in case of a natural, human-caused or public health disaster. The guidelines include:
Know your region and the types of disaster most likely to have an impact on your business.
Find out what emergencies have occurred in the past and what impact these had on other businesses in your area.
Consider your facility’s physical capacity to resist damage and proximity to flood plains, seismic faults, dams, hazardous materials, nuclear power plants and other hazards.
Consult with your insurance agent and learn what coverage is available and what precautions to take for disasters that may impact your business.
Remember, many general policies do not cover earthquake and flood damage.
Assess the capacity of your employees to prepare for and respond to an emergency.
Are 10-15% of your employees trained in basic first-aid and CPR techniques? Do all employees know how to identify individuals who are trained?
Are employee roles clearly defined in the event of a disaster or emergency?
Identify internal and external emergency response resources that will provide assistance during a disaster or other emergency. Who will you contact in an emergency and what will they be able to provide:
Local and state police
Fire department and emergency medical services organization
Local government officials, emergency management office
Local American Red Cross chapter
National Weather Service
Telephone, water, gas and electric companies
What is your plan to protect the business and its employees before, during and after an emergency?
Identify a First Aid team. Approximately 10-15 percent of your workforce should be trained in first aid and CPR so that they can assist in times of disaster or emergency until help arrives. Note: If a facility has multiple shifts, they should have someone from their First Aid team on every shift.
Obtain necessary safety equipment. Budget for and purchase any safety equipment,firstaid kits, Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and shelter-in place supplies that may be needed. Make sure all employees know how to access these supplies.
Write a plan for responding to emergencies. Your plan should include:
-- A system for warning employees about emergencies and communicating with employees and local emergency management officials during a disaster or emergency (i.e. cell phones, computers).
-- Considerations for the special needs of employees with disabilities and medical conditions.
-- Evacuation routes from your facility and an established location where employees should gather.
-- Provisions and a location for employees to shelter-in-place.
Develop a Business Continuity Plan. This plan will help keep your business operating as it responds and recovers from the effects of a disaster or emergency situation.
Though the world of safety and emergency preparedness in the workplace has changed dramatically since 9/11, we can all do a better job of preparing for emergencies and disasters by planning ahead and preparing for the unthinkable in case we’re ever in a similar situation. Your actions now could save lives and avoid panic situations.
Have a safe day!
*Information contained in this communication is Copyright© 2009 by The American National Red Cross.