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From responding procedures and methods of recovery to securing the right resources and employee training, learn how to put together an effective emergency plan for your office.
No business is completely immune from crisis events, medical emergencies and disasters. Even with excellent preventative measures in place, unforeseen events can transpire that threaten the safety of workers and the continuity of the company.
In fact, the workplace has strong potential for being the site of numerous serious or life threatening events.
Consider the following statistics:
For the unprepared workplace, a significant emergency or disaster can be especially devastating. Lack of planning may result in poorly executed and untested procedures which can cause critical loss of response time during emergencies.
The catastrophe can be further compounded if workers are untrained or lack adequate emergency supplies to properly react to the situation. Even a relatively small crisis can rapidly escalate into a full scale disaster due to poor planning and inadequate preparedness.
Surviving and recovering from emergencies requires a dedicated, viable and practiced response from the entire company.
Nearly all experts agree that one of the best methods to protect your business and reduce negative outcomes is with a written disaster preparedness plan.
An effective plan includes:
Creating a preparedness plan for your company isn’t difficult if you apply some basic principles to the process.
Step One: Assess the Hazards
Begin your disaster plan by listing potential emergencies and evaluating the effects on human life, property damage and continuity of operations.
Possible emergencies that may impact all businesses include:
It’s important to give genuine consideration to each of these above areas.
For example, even if the workplace does not have particularly hazardous chemicals on site, there may be a potential for dangerous spills or releases in the surrounding community (such as from a neighboring industrial park) which may impact and endanger the facility.
Your region or specific location may be prone to certain types of disasters or events, which may mandate dedicated or enhanced procedures for response. Even routine products stored or used in the workplace may present fire or explosion hazards under the right conditions. And although acts of terrorism are rare, they are possible at any workplace. To adequately protect workers and the property, you’ll want to examine the potential for these types of emergencies.
You may find it beneficial to consult various authorities for assistance in preparedness planning. Insurance agents, local emergency planning (LEP) authorities and industrial trade organizations can be invaluable sources of information to understand the types of emergencies possible at your workplace and community.
Step Two: Develop Procedures
Once you have identified and detailed possible emergency situations, it becomes easier to develop response mechanisms and procedures.
As the vast majority of all workplace emergencies require either evacuation or shelter-in-place procedures, you will want to dedicate time to create effective and practical procedures for these areas.
Developing the plan will require:
Additionally, it is important your plans meet federal and local requirements. Evacuation routes, for example, may have specific requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as local or state fire codes. Consider asking the local fire authorities to review your plan prior to implementation.
Document the procedures for your company and make certain copies are accessible to the employees. Post the evacuation and shelter procedures throughout the facility.
Step Three: Include Recovery and Continuity
Employers should also address recovery and continuity of operations after a major disaster with planned procedures. Communications, transportation and supplies are often severely disrupted following a large scale or serious situation which may negatively impact your business. Think about ways to communicate with workers and clients after disasters. Discuss continuity plans with critical vendors to ensure they have procedures for post-disaster events.
All employers should create plans for off-site operations in the event of serious property damage. Evaluate the essential functions of the business and determine any jobs that can be performed by employees at home or through telecommuting. Backing up computer data to secure cloud-based network systems can prove life saving to the operations and overall longevity of the business. Keep copies of important business documents in a fire safe and in a “go-kit” in case of emergency evacuation.
Step Four: Gather Resources
Virtually all emergency and disaster response require some sort of equipment and supplies to effectively manage the event.
At the minimum, your business should have:
If your facility has the potential for hazardous chemical spills or releases, you may need other items such as spill kits, respirators or chemically resistant gloves and goggles. Depending on the company needs, this may also necessitate the use of protective clothing. Simple paper-like fiber disposable suits to protect against dust and splashes or more advanced protection offered by neoprene or similar materials may be required.
However, make certain you comply with applicable OSHA standards, especially when it comes to chemical response and personal protective equipment.
All employers should seriously consider obtaining an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). The AED is a device that checks the heart rhythm. If necessary, the device can send an electric shock to the heart to restore normal rhythm. While CPR is a vital process in emergency medical care, AEDs may offer a greater benefit to the victim’s overall survival rate. As part of the Cardiac Chain of Survival, which mandates early access to care, prompt CPR and early defibrillation as essential components, quickly deploying an AED may be essential.
The AED has been shown to greatly improve the chances of survival following certain medical emergencies, such as sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). As each minute following SCA reduces the chances of survival by as much as ten percent, prompt treatment and restoration of heart rhythms can be lifesaving. According to OSHA, ventricular fibrillation may be restored to normal rhythm up to 60 percent of the time if treated promptly with an AED.
Previously AEDs were cumbersome, expensive or more complex to operate. Newer versions have streamlined the process and are quite simple to use. Current AEDs offer verbal instructions, lights or text messages on how to use the device, which makes the critical moments of initial response more effective. The cost of AEDs has also decreased greatly in recent years, making the device a vital lifesaving tool that most business owners and individuals can readily afford.
Although the AED has become a simple device that even an untrained person can readily activate, employers should instruct workplace responders on the proper use. The American Red Cross and the American Heart Association offer courses that integrate CPR and AED training affordably. In a few hours, a person can be trained to operate the device and have knowledge of other necessary lifesaving skills.
Other factors employers should examine include the long-term effects of emergencies. With certain disasters, such as hurricanes, it may be necessary to shelter-in-place for an extended period. Evaluate the needs of the workplace for long-term supplies, such as potable water, non-perishable food and other items.
Step Five: Train Workers
Ideally, all workers should be instructed on emergency procedures, at the time of hire and if any changes in the plan occur.
Regular drills for evacuation and shelter should be conducted to ensure everyone knows the procedures. In some states or regions, the frequency or type of drills may be mandatory, so you should check with local authorities.
Additionally, your employees should be aware of the proper use of fire extinguishers and other emergency supplies.
The American Red Cross recommends training ten to fifteen percent of the workforce in first aid and CPR. At the minimum, you should have enough workers trained on every shift and department to attend to medical emergencies on the job within a few minutes.
If your workplace has any specific equipment that must be shut down during disasters, the workers assigned with this responsibility should be instructed on the procedures.
Training may also be mandatory under OSHA for certain types of response, such as emergencies related to chemical hazards. You will want to consult the OSHA regulations for any necessary criteria in these areas.
According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, roughly one-fourth of businesses do not reopen after a major disaster. Like many other areas in life, being prepared makes a difference. By creating a well-rounded disaster preparedness plan, gathering supplies and training workers, you may prevent some hazardous situations from worsening, as well as improve your company’s chances of recovering from critical events.
This article provides general information, and is not intended to be personalized legal or medical advice; please consult with your own advisor and review local/state/federal regulatory guidelines and requirements if you have any questions.