Worst-Case Scenarios: How Would You Handle These Emergencies?

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

You don’t have to be a Boy Scout to benefit from their motto: Be prepared. Whether you’re a small business owner or employee, your response to workplace accidents has tremendous impact.

“The biggest mistake I see small business owners making is not preparing ahead of time,” laments Elizabeth Lewis, a Denver-based small business lawyer. “I get calls from a lot of people saying, ‘This happened! What I do?’ Of course I can help, but what you should have done is call me six months ago, before this even happened.”

How can you be better prepared? We offer the following advice for information only. Consult state regulations, your attorney and your insurance broker before enacting or executing any emergency response policy or procedure.

Allergic Reactions

“Allergic reactions can range from simple skin reactions to serious, life-threatening reactions,” explains Charles Cairns, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of North Carolina. “The key is to determine whether a more serious reaction is occurring.” When someone has an allergic reaction:

1. Ask if they’re having trouble breathing or swallowing, or are feeling faint. “If yes, then they need to go the emergency room,” Cairns says. “Call 911 to getEMS on the scene to provide medication and oxygen immediately.” Also ask if they have a history of allergies, and if so, what medications they take — including if they carry an epinephrine device or other anaphylaxis treatment. “If so, ask if they have injected themselves with it,” Cairns adds. Even if they have, they should go to the emergency room.

2. Determine if this was an isolated incident (one person’s allergy) or a larger environmental issue — but only after the medical situation is resolved, according to Lewis. If it’s the latter, you may need to secure the area with flagging tape or crowd control fixtures to restrict access and avoid additional incidents.

3. “Reach out to your insurance broker and/or agent sometime that day to explain the situation,” says Scott Johnson, owner/broker of Marindependent Insurance Services in Mill Valley, CA. “Then I would suggest you begin to collect all the documentation of the situation, such as records and videos, or whatever you may have.” Whenever someone leaves your premises by ambulance, it’s a good idea to call your attorney, too.

Slips, Trips and Falls

According to data from the National Safety Council, slips, trips and falls account for more than 8.7 million emergency room visits each year. “These are common injuries,” Lewis notes. “The best-case scenario is that you’ve already talked to your staff and have guidelines in place” for dealing with these incidents. When this kind of accident happens:

1. Ask why they fell and determine if there is evidence of a serious injury or serious underlying medical condition. “We like to distinguish rapidly between people who’ve had a simple mechanical problem — a misstep with otherwise normal function — versus those who have other serious problems that contributed to the fall, such as abnormal heart, vascular and neurological function, and so on,” Cairns says. Then determine their condition, which is extremely helpful when calling 9-1-1.

  • Are they awake? If they are, can they move all their arms, hands, legs, toes? If so, can they get up on their own? If they can get up, can they walk on their own? If they are unable, or uncomfortable doing any of these things, then they need to go to the hospital. Call 9-1-1 to getEMSto the scene.
  • Are they vomiting? Do they have any numbness, weakness, chest pain or difficulty breathing? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then they need to go the hospital, so call 9-1-1.

2. Secure the area to prevent further injuries and/or damage. “In other words, clean up the water people are slipping on, etc.,” Johnson explains. You also may need to secure the area, as noted above. Be sure to document the hazard with photographs and witness reports.

3. Call your insurer. Customers and employees are likely covered under different policies. A call to your insurance agent lets you know your need for workers’ compensation or liability insurance. “Be prepared with policy numbers when you make the phone calls,” Johnson explains. “I would then begin gathering information about the accident, including, but not limited to, records, videos and the names of people involved.” Security cameras may be set to record over every 24 hours, so make arrangements to secure that footage immediately.

Auto Accidents

“Before you let people drive for your business, you have to have some kind of policy in place and have checked with your insurance company,” Lewis says. When an auto accident occurs:

1. Call 9-1-1 to get police (andEMS, if necessary) to the scene. This is critical for safety and liability reasons. Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver, but do not admit fault or discuss coverages. Be polite, but discuss the details of the accident only with the police,EMS and your insurance agent.

2. Move the vehicles out of travel lanes if that practice is legal in your state — and if it’s safe enough to do so. Set up traffic cones, warning triangles or emergency flares to alert oncoming traffic. If possible, take photos of license plates, damage and landmarks/road signs.

3. Call your insurance agent, broker or insurance company immediately after law enforcement andEMS have stabilized the situation, Johnson says. “There are insurance coverages you may elect to use immediately, such as towing.”

This general advice gives you an idea of what to do in the case of common work-related accidents and emergencies. Consult with your own attorney and insurance agent before creating policies and procedures for your office. Laws and regulations differ widely from state to state and you want to have the correct response plan in place to ensure safety and decrease liability.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a business writer who grew up in her family’s gourmet grocery. She’s run her own creative agency, The Word Factory, for 21 years, and frequently advises start-ups and emerging enterprises on everything from communications to operations. She lives and works in Carrboro, NC. Follow Margot on Google+.

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