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Preparedness 101

'Tis the season for ice storms, falls, and collisions. Remember, you can't get ready yesterday.

We see horrifying images everywhere: devastating ice storms, hurricanes, traffic pile-ups, crumbled buildings and sinkholes, mall shootings, and sometimes catastrophic workplace accidents. Are your workers really prepared to be safe? (And what about the looming threat of a widespread pandemic flu?)

We are living in an instant-access, drive-by world these days. When we need a set of gloves, a first aid kit, a faceshield, or a respirator, we stop by the local hardware or big-box store and get it immediately, or we order online and await delivery within hours. Viewing icebound Oklahoma landscapes last month should have given us pause: What if there are long-term, serious power and traffic interruptions? How will your employees "make do"?

Planning is one of the most important parts of any safety program. You have to make sure your employees are covered for the "expected" hazards of their industry, but that's where the real safety work starts. You must anticipate the "unexpected" hazards and be ready and waiting to protect your employees. Are you ready?

By no means am I suggesting stockpiling every conceivable safety product, but being ready for ice storms with appropriate clothing and equipment is a no-brainer if such events are likely in your area. Think back to the past 10 big events where you needed something in a hurry, and then start with a list. Many Hurricane Katrina cleanup workers desperately needed bug repellent and extra (many extra) gloves due to the contamination of the water and surfaces. In any crisis situation, your workers depend on you to have on hand the tools and safety equipment they need to get the work done.

Make the list reasonable but appropriate for your employees who are working and those who may be used as volunteers in an emergency situation. Devise suitable training (remembering the real possibility of no electricity) by having a generic printed handout or PPE checklist with a signature block at the bottom. Also, in times of crisis and preparation, consider the comfort of the items. Doing this reduces frustration of the workers and extends the time they're protected on the job, thus increasing safety.

As safety professionals, we want everyone to go home safely. Our efforts to accomplish this begin long before the actual event takes place. Keep your list dynamic as conditions, work processes, and hazards change. In an emergency situation, your employees will be glad you did.

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Linda J. Sherrard, MS, CSP, is Safety Consultant with Central Prison Healthcare Complex, NCDPS in Raleigh, N.C., and is the former technical editor of OH&S. She can be reached at ljohnsonsherrard@nc.rr.com.

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