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Creating a Small Business Preparedness Plan

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:

  • Annually, fires and explosions occur in roughly 70,000 American businesses and cause nearly 200 employee fatalities
  • Approximately 1,200 tornadoes occur every year in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Virtually all states have the possibility of experiencing a moderate to severe earthquake

For the unprepared workplace, a significant emergency or disaster can be especially devastating. Lack of planning can 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. 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:

  • Procedures to respond to various emergency situations
  • Methods to recover and maintain business continuity
  • Securing adequate resources and supplies for crisis events
  • Employee training

Creating a preparedness plan for your company isn’t difficult if you apply some basic principles to the process. Try these general guidelines.

Step 1: 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:

  • Fires and explosions
  • Severe weather, including tornadoes, hurricanes and extreme temperatures
  • Regional disasters, such as flooding and earthquakes
  • Medical emergencies
  • Chemical spills and releases
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Equipment failure and power outages

It’s important to give genuine consideration to each of these 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 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 in your community.

Step 2: Develop Procedures

Once you’ve 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 both situations.

Developing the plan will require:

  • Creating evacuation routes that are accessible and free of other hazards, such as flammable or combustible products
  • Determining an outside assembly point where employees can gather after evacuation
  • Establishing a shelter area within the facility for severe weather response
  • Assigning workers to assist individuals with disabilities, medical conditions or injuries during an emergency
  • Instituting methods to communicate emergencies to employees, such as an alarm system

Additionally, it’s 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 sure copies are accessible to all employees. Post the evacuation and shelter procedures throughout the facility.

Step 3: Include Recovery & 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 that 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 your business’s essential functions 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 lifesaving to the business’s operations and overall longevity. Keep copies of important business documents in a fire safe and in an off-site “go-kit” in case of emergency evacuation.

Step 4: Gather Resources

Virtually all emergency and disaster response requires some sort of equipment and supplies to effectively manage the event. At the minimum, your business should have:

  • Ample fire extinguishers throughout the facility
  • High-quality first aid kits
  • Bloodborne pathogen kits to prevent disease spread when responding to medical emergencies
  • Signage indicating the designated shelter and the intended evacuation routes, as well as where fire extinguishers and first aid kits are located
  • Battery-powered weather alert radios
  • Flashlights and batteries

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 your company’s 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). In the event of certain medical emergencies, such as sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), an AED can be used to check the heart rhythm and, if necessary, 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. Each minute following SCA reduces the chances of survival by as much as 10 percent, so 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 with verbal instructions, lights or text messages on how to use the device. 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 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.

When preparing for emergencies, employers should also consider the workplace’s needs for long-term supplies in the case of disasters like hurricanes, where workers may need to shelter in place. These supplies include drinking water, nonperishable food and other items.

Step 5: Train the Team

Ideally, all members of your staff should be instructed on emergency procedures — at the time of hire and if any changes in the plan occur. Regular drills should be conducted to ensure everyone knows the emergency 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 10 to 15 percent of the workforce in first aid and CPR. At 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. 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 such an event.

This article provides general information and is not intended to provide 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.

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