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OSHA offers tips to overcome winter emergencies

January 11, 2006
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A number of hazards exist year-round, however winter in northern locations brings a higher risk of weather-related emergencies, including winter ice storms, power outages and a higher likelihood of lowland floods. Employers that plan ahead to keep workers safe in an emergency are also employers that are better equipped to survive a natural disaster and continue operations.

Oregon OSHA suggests employers focus on three objectives when planning for emergencies:

1) Protect the safety of your workers.
  • Communication is vital before, during and after an emergency. Include emergency preparedness information in newsletters, bulletin boards, staff emails and other internal communication tools.
  • Set up a telephone-calling tree, a password-protected page on the company Web site, an alert message sent to home email accounts or an answer-only voicemail recording to provide information to employees in an emergency.
  • Provide workers with wallet cards detailing instructions, including phone numbers and Web sites, for getting company information during an emergency.
  • Establish a process for safely evacuating your facility, if appropriate, and coordinate a safe area where workers can be accounted for.
  • Once snow has fallen or ice has formed, make sure that parking lots and walkways are cleared of those hazards. Remove heavy snow accumulations from roofs to not impact structural safety of the building.
  • Identify co-workers in your organization with special needs. Train people willing to help those workers with special needs get to safety and be sure they are physically suited to their responsibility. This is particularly important if a worker needs to be lifted or carried.

2) Plan for business continuity during a crisis.
  • Carefully assess your company's external and internal functions to determine staff, materials, procedures and equipment that are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating.
  • Identify operations critical to survival and recovery. Ensure that time is built in to your plan to assess the safety of production equipment or working conditions following an incident.
  • Include planning for emergency payroll continuity, expedited purchasing procedures and accounting systems.
  • Establish procedures for succession of management. Include at least one person who is not at the company headquarters, if possible.
  • Create a contact list for existing business contractors, vendors and other key members of your supply chain to contact in an emergency.
  • Consider if you can run the business from a different location (or from your home). Ensure that your back-up location can provide a safe work environment for your employees.
  • Include a broad cross-section of people from throughout your organization for your emergency team. Include workers from all levels in planning and as active members, but focus on those with expertise vital to daily business functions. This team will likely include skilled technical specialists as well as company leaders.
  • Define incident-management procedures and individual responsibilities in advance.
  • Talk with first responders, local emergency managers and utility providers about your plan.
  • Review your emergency plans annually.

  • 3) Find resources to help you plan ahead. OSHA can help you find resources and information to develop your company's emergency action plan.

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