From wildfires blazing across the West Coast of the United States to one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, this year is shaping up to be a busy one for Mother Nature. Disasters and emergencies can strike at any moment, and just as individuals are encouraged to prepare themselves and their families for potential hazards, so should businesses.
Read on to learn about handling disasters and emergencies in the workplace.
What is a workplace emergency?
Workplace emergencies can be man-made or naturally occurring and can have a detrimental impact on your business. Emergencies can pose a threat to the safety of your employees, customers, and even the public. They have the potential to disrupt or shut down business operations. Here are a few examples of workplace emergencies:
- Chemical Spills
- Workplace Violence
The range of potential workplace emergencies is broad, so it’s important to be prepared for any situation that may pose a threat to your business, employees, and customers.
How to handle a workplace emergency
Don’t count on your ability to react logically and sensibly during an emergency. In a crisis, stress levels and emotions increase, which clouds judgment and decision-making. That’s why it’s important to have an action plan established for each scenario, prior to the emergency.
What is an emergency action plan?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an emergency action plan covers designated actions employers and employees must take to ensure safety from hazards. Although OSHA does not require all employers to establish an emergency action plan, it’s strongly encouraged to do so to protect your business and employees.
How to create an emergency action plan
Because disasters and emergency situations have different factors, including geographic location, type of business, number of employees, and situational severity – just to name a few – there is no one-size-fits-all action plan. Each employer must evaluate the situation and brainstorm potential threats specific to his or her business.
Holding a roundtable discussion with management can be a good way to begin assembling an emergency action plan. Brainstorm worst-case scenarios with your team. Start with instances that have a higher probability of occurring. Does your business operate in the Pacific Northwest? What would happen if wildfires broke out and threatened your business? If your business operates in the Midwest, have a plan in the event of a tornado warning. What would happen if a tornado were to hit your office head-on? And, sadly, any business can be the victim of workplace violence. How would your organization handle an armed gunman on campus?
As frightening as these scenarios are to consider, the outcome will be far worse if a situation happens for which you’re unprepared. Establishing a comprehensive emergency action plan, where you’ve worked through the worst-case scenarios of potential emergencies, how they would affect your business and employees, and how you would respond is the best way to be prepared.
Per OSHA recommendations, at minimum, your emergency action plan should include the following:
- A preferred method for reporting fires and other emergencies
- An evacuation policy and procedure
- Emergency escape plan and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe or refuge areas
- Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside your company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan
- Procedures for employees who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating
- Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them
You may also consider designating a specific and easy-to-locate meeting point or assembly location, along with procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation.
How do you alert employees to an emergency?
The next step to include in your action plan is how you’ll notify your employees in the event of an emergency. Here are a few recommendations for alerting your employees to evacuate or take other necessary action when a crisis arises.
- Ensure alarms are distinctive and recognized by employees as a signal to evacuate the work area; consider using tactile devices to alert employees who would not otherwise be able to recognize an audible or visual alarm
- Set up and test an emergency communication system to contact local law enforcement, the fire department, or other necessary personnel
- Set up and test an emergency communication system, like automated calls or text message alerts, to notify employees of the emergency
Although we hope disaster won’t come knocking on our door, it’s important to take the necessary precautions and be prepared for a crisis. For additional information provided by OSHA on handling emergency disaster situations in the workplace, including establishing evacuation routes and accounting for employees after an evacuation, click here.