From natural disasters to global pandemics, the challenges organizations face are evolving at an unprecedented rate. The need for emergency preparedness has never been more evident. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), the number of natural disasters in the U.S. has increased significantly in recent years, with almost half of events costing over a billion dollars. Just this year, employers across the U.S. have incurred losses due to earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and now possibly a resurgence in COVID-19. The question arises: Is your workplace adequately equipped to handle whatever comes next?
What is a Workplace Emergency?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a workplace emergency is a situation that threatens workers, customers, or the public and can disrupt or shut down operations. These events can also cause physical or environmental damage.
Emergencies can occur naturally or be caused by humans and may include extreme weather, earthquakes, floods, fires, chemical spills, widespread illness, and civil unrest. The severity of these events can range from minor inconveniences, such as power outages, to situations with devastating and fatal outcomes. Disruptions caused by emergencies can bring work to a standstill and even lead to permanent closure. The key to survival lies in proactive preparation.
Comprehensive Emergency Plans
September is emergency preparedness month, so now is an especially great time to revisit your workplace's emergency plans. All employers must develop and maintain an Emergency Action Plan tailored to their workplace's unique needs. The key to creating a comprehensive plan is identifying potential risks and vulnerabilities, considering the geographical location and the likelihood of certain events impacting the workplace. These could include natural disasters, civil unrest, hazardous material spills, and widespread illnesses.
Emergency Action Plans should outline prevention, identification, and response protocols, including evacuation, communication, and protection. Depending on the industry and state requirements, employers may also need additional elements, including procedures for critical plant operations, rescue duties, and emergency supply distribution. Business continuity is often tied to Emergency Plans, and employers are encouraged to identify how operations following an event will continue. This may include embracing technology such as cloud backups and fostering flexibility by allowing employees to work remotely.
Employers can choose to address widespread illness in the Emergency Action Plan, another comprehensive workplace safety program, or choose to have a stand-alone Infectious Disease Plan. Infectious Disease Plans should outline the employer's response to widespread illnesses, including strategies the workplace will take to prevent employee infection. The plan should also include measures to be taken for specific disease outbreaks, such as COVID-19.
Employers must regularly review and update all safety plans to reflect changes in the workplace, community, and state and federal regulations.
When disaster strikes, a knowledgeable workforce can respond effectively, minimizing harm and damage. Every employee needs to know the details of the Emergency Action Plan, including how to safely exit the workplace, where to assemble, when to shelter in place, the types of alarm systems used, and if employees have a role in any shutdown procedures. Some individuals may also need to be trained to assist others during evacuation. Employees should be trained upon hire, when plans are updated, and if their role changes. Annual or bi-annual drills are recommended for most industries and required for some based on OSHA or state-plan requirements. These exercises should also identify workplace preparedness gaps, allowing for necessary improvements.
Employers are also encouraged to consider providing resources, such as employee counseling, after an emergency event. The other EAP, Employee Assistance Programs, typically offer these benefits.
A Call to Action
Earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and the persistent threat of COVID-19 require workplaces to be ready for the unexpected. Employers will be better prepared to respond to the next emergency by keeping their Emergency Action Plan current. If your workplace is like many others, your organization may not be as ready as you would like. Schedule time this month to meet with your emergency planning committee or safety committee to review emergency plans.
Eligible Archbright members can access several emergency planning tools in the mozzo Resource Library, including Emergency Action Plan Quickstart Guides, Emergency Action Plan Workplace and Home Office Templates, and an Emergency Preparedness Vulnerability Analysis Tool. Eligible employers can also contact the Safety Hotline or utilize mozzo chat to speak with a Safety Consultant for additional support.
As we've witnessed over the last few years, the only constant is change. The question is, will your workplace be ready for what's next?