Here are five considerations when developing or re-evaluating your organization’s emergency preparedness plan:
- Assess your hazards. Emergency preparedness planning should begin by listing potential emergencies that could impact your business. These could include fires and explosions, severe weather, regional disasters, medical emergencies, chemical spills, equipment failure and power outages. Evaluate their effect on employees, property and business continuity.
- Develop procedures. Develop response mechanisms including evacuation plans and in-house procedures to safeguard your employees and crucial assets.
- Purchase supplies. Stock up on emergency supplies ranging from fire extinguishers, emergency preparedness kits, long-term shelf life water and food, crank-powered cell phone chargers, emergency lighting (flashlights, lanterns and glow sticks), extra batteries, blankets and exit signs.
- Employee training. All members of your staff should be instructed on emergency procedures at the time of hire and kept up to date on procedures if there are any changes in the plan. Regular drills should be conducted. Posting signage and posters throughout your facility can serve as a good reminder and help employees reference safety procedures on a regular basis.
- Ensure the safety of your technology/data. Power outages can damage equipment. Make sure you back up company data through a hosted, off-site service in addition to onsite storage. Check that your back-up system is working properly on a regular basis, so you won’t run into trouble or lose valuable company information if a hazard strikes.
Are the essentials of emergency preparedness different depending on the type of emergency incident? Procedures may vary for different emergencies as certain situations or events may call for a specific set of procedures or measures. The essentials outlined above would apply in most situations.
What should employers do to ensure business continuity if a natural disaster strikes? Communication, transportation and supply chains are often the most severely disrupted functions when a disaster strikes. It’s important to create plans for off-site operations in the event of serious damage. If possible, provide your employees with the proper technology to telecommute productively. This includes technology, such as access to Virtual Private Network (VPN), to enable employees to securely obtain the same data they normally would in the workplace.
How can social media, texting, etc. be used to communicate warnings and other instructions? As soon as decisions are made on how an approaching situation will be handled, appropriate instructions should be communicated to employees on pre-publicized social media sites. The various instruction designations and websites should have been covered in communications and practice sessions prior to the actual event.
How can employees set up “accounting” systems to make sure all their employees are accounted for, and are safely evacuated and/or protected, before an emergency incident hits? When dealing with evacuations from a location or into a predetermined “safe” area, pre-produced sign out and sign-in sheets should be used to help determine that all employees are accounted for. For example, as employees leave the building or enter the “safe” area, they should sign their name next to their pre-printed name on a company roster. It is helpful to have the font on these roster sheets be large enough and organized well enough to make the signing process quick and easy.
What else should safety and health directors know about emergency preparedness? Every business has unique needs when it comes to emergency preparedness. It’s important to prepare ahead of time, as well as review your existing emergency plans regularly, to make sure that it incorporates important changes in the business environment. Whether it be a natural disaster, storm or unexpected emergency, having a proactive plan in place will help ensure the well-being of employees.
Ultimately, safeguarding your employees and business during an emergency comes down to creating a safe, educated workplace culture. A safety culture encompasses the values used by management and workers to determine how they behave at work. It’s important for safety to be a continuous, integrated process, rather than just a compliance requirement. Establishing a safety culture will help your business’ bottom line, while protecting your most important assets – your employees.