Business Disaster Tips

IN an effort to help prevent injuries, illnesses and property damage, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) offers the following safety tips for businesses to use following a disaster. Although there is no one-size-fits-all program, these tips may help. First, businesses should do a hazard evaluation and assessment performed by a safety professional. Please note the following tips suggested to be done following a catastrophe such as a hurricane:

Structural Security: Have the structural integrity of the building or facility validated by qualified professionals before anyone enters the facility.

Safe Entry: Contact the proper government agencies to get approval to resume occupancy of the building. Do not enter a facility or building unless the proper clearances have been attained.

Cleanup Safety: Implement your cleanup and business resumption processes in a safe and healthful manner. You will accomplish nothing if your employees are injured or killed during the post-disaster phase-in period. Provide training in proper selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for your employees and yourself such as eyewear, gloves and dust masks/respirators for cleaning, and where appropriate in other operations.

Air Quality Assessment: Make sure the atmosphere in the workplace environment is tested for asbestos and other chemical/toxic agents. Air quality is an issue businesses may wish to pay careful attention to when restarting business operations.

Ventilation: Have vents checked to assure that water heaters and gas furnaces are clear and operable. Dust and debris can stop or impede airflow decreasing its quality and healthfulness. Safely start up heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which include prior inspection of lines before energizing and pressurizing of the systems. Test your systems now after inspection or have a qualified specialist do so. Blow cold air through HVAC systems first, as opposed to warm air, as it will help prevent the growth of mold in duct systems.

Interior, Exterior Exposures: For interior spaces, ensure no wall or ceiling materials are in danger of falling. If such exposures do exist, the work environment is not ready for occupancy. Check for cracked windows and outside building materials, as these could fall onto pedestrians at any time -- now and in the future.

Protection Equipment: For fire and smoke alarms it is important to assure that these have been cleaned and tested before allowing occupancy of the building. If such systems are wired into other systems, ensure that they are still compatible and work in an efficient and effective manner. Thorough inspection of firefighting systems such as sprinkler and chemical equipment functions is a must do item.

Electrical Safety: Have checks made of electrical systems, computer cables and telecommunications' equipment to ensure that they are still safe and there is no danger of exposure to electricity. Wiring inspections should be conducted from the outside in to ensure all wiring and connections are not in danger of shorting out due to water damage from rain or fire-fighting efforts.

Use Existing Federal Guidelines: Utilize existing start-up guidance materials provided by government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), http://www.fema.gov, and NIOSH, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh.

Health/Sanitation Issues: The general facility sanitation systems with the facility should be inspected and tested to guard against potential employee exposure to toxic agents. Food sanitation should also be an issue. Any unused foodstuffs should be discarded. If the workspace has a kitchen, inspect oven hoods and other ventilation devices to ensure they are not clogged and are working efficiently.

Office Furniture: Inspect the furniture to ensure it can withstand expected loads and usages. Ensure that binder bins (storage devices screwed or bolted to railing systems on walls and panels) have not become unstable due to water damage or shaking due to explosions. Inspect office equipment to ensure it is level, stable, and cannot tip over.

Lighting: Make sure there are adequate illumination levels for employees. Emergency lighting should be checked to ensure it operates and functions in the correct manner.

Emergency Planning: Ensure that there is a clear path of egress for the emergency evacuation of employees, that the fire extinguishers are still operable and that checks for damage and serviceability are made to see if any fire extinguishers' facilities were used during the disaster. If damage is found, they should be replaced immediately.

Solid/Hazardous Waste Removal: Broken glass, debris or other materials with cutting edges should be safely gathered and disposed immediately. Ensure that such materials can be disposed of before collection to avoid creating even bigger hazards for both employees and the public. Solid waste disposal will be an issue, especially if hazardous waste is involved. Evaluate waste disposal issues prior to beginning clean-up operations to ensure it can be properly disposed of. ASSE's free "Hazardous Materials Safety Information Guide" has key info on this and is available by contacting customerservice@asse.org.

Power Checks: If there is no access to electricity on the site, do not use fueled generators or heaters indoors. Ensure that there are no gas and sewer leaks in your facility. You will need to check with your local utilities for information regarding power, gas, water, and sewer usage.

Check Mainframes: If your facility has mainframe computer applications, see that lines and cabling for chiller systems are checked to avoid chemical leak out.

Emergency Procedures: Create a new emergency plan and distribute it to employees as soon as they return to work. In case of emergency, designate a place for employees to gather once out of the building or a phone number they should call following the emergency so that all can be accounted for. Frequently update the emergency contact list of names and phone numbers.

Machine Inspections: Inspect the condition of drain, fill, plumbing and hydraulic lines on processes and machines. It would be prudent to have plumbing lines evaluated and tested in order to detect any hazardous gases.

Surfaces: Make sure flooring surfaces are acceptable and free from possible slips, trips and falls -- the second leading cause of on-the-job deaths in the United States. ANSI standard A1264 - protection of floor and wall openings is a good starting point.

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