> When Disasters Strike: Planning and Preparing for Emergencies

When Disasters Strike: Planning and Preparing for Emergencies

By EHS Today on 18 October 2017

 

In light of recent events worldwide, emergency preparedness is on everybody’s mind. All businesses are required to have an emergency response plan. Employers with 10 or more employees must have a written plan; those with less than 10 may share their plan orally with their team.  Regardless, it is important that all plans be updated frequently – and always reevaluated after such an event occurs.

These days, although most companies have an emergency response plan, they don’t always have it up to date or it is not relevant to all possible crises. It is essential to prepare for natural disasters known in your area, but also for known risks in your facility.

The first step, and the most challenging one, is to complete a very detailed risk assessment of the facility. It includes any risks at all levels of the company. Based on their location, companies can determine which natural disasters are likely to impact their business and then prepare for those specific disasters. It also is essential for companies to inventory their dangerous processes, such as chemical handling, chemical processing, heat treatment, etc., and create a specific response for each of the departments dealing with those processes.

 

Engage Employees in the Planning Process

The key to creating those risk assessments is to involve employees from the ground level up to the general manager. You want to convene a group of people who can imagine what could happen in the many different scenarios. They all will bring their knowledge and past experiences to help you prepare for an emergency.

Once the different risks have been determined, you then will need to rate them based on frequency, severity and the controls in place in the facility. This score will determine the significant risks on which you want to focus. It is important to remember that risk assessments are live documents; they are tools for businesses to use as they are making changes. It is extremely crucial to keep them updated regularly as they are the core of your disaster response program.

Once your risk assessments have been completed, it is time to create emergency response plans that adequately fit your needs. You can decide to consider all risks or medium and higher risks and create a response plan. The plan should be detailed and relevant to the business. Your plan should include:

  • Notification/communication procedures.
  • A detailed evacuation procedure that includes maps with exit routes and emergency shut down procedures.
  • A way to account for all employees.
  • Rescue and medical procedures.
  • A contact list of responsible personnel with their job title and description of their duties in case of an emergency.
  • Your implementation plan.

Map It Out and Train, Train, Train!

Businesses with critical processes also should include maps of where dangerous chemicals are stored and list potentially dangerous machines and their locations. It is relevant to detail high-risk processes you have on-site for the safety of the response team.

Emergency plans should be sent to external services, such as the fire department and/or your environmental emergency responder. A clear emergency response plan will save you a lot of time and questions during an emergency. One of the biggest mistakes is to have a great plan than no one knows about.

Training is key. There will be several levels of training depending on each role in the emergency response plan and everyone in the company should know and understand their role.  Some of the high-level positions will be filled by the executives on-site such as the general manager, maintenance manager or safety manager, while other positions will be filled by shop-floor workers. Emergency preparedness should be discussed throughout the year during safety meetings or production meetings.

It is necessary to regularly train your personnel on the plan. The more you practice, the more likely it is that employees will follow the plan should an emergency occur. Evacuation drills are imperative to test your plan and prepare employees for emergencies. You might even want to create several scenarios for your higher risks, such as an earthquake or chemical release.

Another vital part of your company’s emergency preparedness is having the proper equipment and signage for it. Keep it very visual! Pictures often speak louder than words. Each day, as people walk by these signs, the plan will reinforce itself and they will remember it should an emergency arise. At a minimum, there should be signage throughout your site for fire extinguishers, first aid kits/AEDs, emergency exit doors, spill kits, emergency eye wash stations and emergency showers.

Companies often struggle with the amount of detail and information that should be included in an emergency response plan. There are several web sites that propose checklists or help frame emergency response plans, such as the OSHA or the CDC web sites. Frequent audits can help you determine if your plan is effective and decide if more training might be required.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until an emergency occurs to determine if your plan is adequate and your employees are ready to respond. Review your emergency response plan today!

 

By Cecile Felsher

Article originally appeared http://www.ehstoday.com/emergency-management/when-disasters-strike-planning-and-preparing-emergencies