Identifying employees who understand the duties and responsibilities of a first responder and who are seriously committed are key to your recruiting success and building a higher-performance response team that can execute under extreme pressure.

#1 Priority When Disaster Occurs: Everyone Goes Home

When an amazing safety-first culture exists, the result is a waiting list of employees wanting to be on the emergency response team.

In the fire service, we have a campaign called Everyone Goes Home®, Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives by the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation. This initiative is designed to foster a #1 priority mindset in our first responders to reduce firefighter injuries and line of duty deaths. Many of the characteristics of the Everyone Goes Home campaign are applicable to industry and business.

At industrial and manufacturing facilities across the world, emergency response teams are the first responders. And by adopting the Everyone Goes Home mindset, you create a great culture of safety and keep your first responders focused on the #1 priority when accidents occur: saving and protecting lives. For anyone responsible for an emergency response team, there are three key challenges to creating a higher-performing team and instilling this mindset: recruiting the right people, providing continuous training, and securing the equipment and resources necessary for them to perform their duties effectively during an incident.

Recruiting the Right People
How do you recruit employees who are fully willing, dedicated, and committed to take on the additional responsibility of emergency response? Most often, recruitment is done in one of a few ways:

1. Volunteer Method (no extra pay): This is as it indicates: asking employees to be on the emergency response team without remuneration. Most often, there is not a huge crowd of employees who want to volunteer. Some are not confident they can perform the job; some do not want to take on more responsibility with no increase in pay. Others may have a fear of liability or just simply do not want the responsibility that comes with being a first responder. This recruiting method is by far the most difficult and can result in getting minimal or no volunteers.

2. Volunteer Method (extra pay): Many employers will offer extra pay to encourage employees to volunteer to be on the team. However, this incentive pay typically is either in the form of a higher hourly rate or a bonus at the end of the year. Employers who offer bonus pay can have a very difficult time recruiting volunteers because the employees have to perform duties and then wait for their additional pay.

3. Mandatory Assignment: Some employers make it mandatory for certain departments, such as the maintenance department, to be on the emergency response team. Other facilities might make it mandatory for all supervisors to be on the team or may just pick and choose personnel to be on the team. Be cautious with this method because mandates are perceived to eliminate the employee's buy-in (choice) and can create a non-cohesive team.

The first initiative in Everyone Goes home is cultural change, so no matter which method you use to recruit, the most effective way to get the right personnel is to create a great culture of safety. Many facilities fully embrace the safety culture throughout all ranks, starting with corporate/plant manager and working through HR to the safety department, to supervisors, to front-line personnel. When this amazing safety-first culture exists, the result is a waiting list of employees wanting to be on the emergency response team dedicated to your #1 priority, keeping employees and the community safe. Identifying employees who understand the duties and responsibilities of a first responder and who are seriously committed are key to your recruiting success and building a higher-performance response team that can execute under extreme pressure.

Training (and Retrain, Retrain, Retrain)
Now that you have your team members assembled, they'll need training, continuous training. Training takes time and money: money to bring in certified training instructors, money to pay employees to attend training on their off days, and/or money to pay other employees to work overtime so your response team can attend training. Typically, the training instructors are your least cost, with overtime pay for employees being the most.

For the best training, you'll need to engage high-quality, certified instructors who have experienced real-world emergency response and who fully understand the industrial and manufacturing environment. Many times, instructors are contracted who do not have real-world experience, do not understand that industry is different than fire or EMS services in how they operate, and do not follow your company’s emergency response plan when training. You'll want to make sure the training you provide your response team is the best of the best and includes certified courses, simulated exercises, and tabletop drills and is in compliance with OSHA, NFPA, ANSI, or EPA, as well as your company's emergency response plan.

Another key factor in training is to allow the required time for the training courses. Many facilities want training to be in a compressed time frame due to the cost of having employees in training and not out in the facility working their jobs. Training instructors often are asked, "Can you conduct a 16-hour training class in eight hours?" Never compromise training—think of it as "Would you allow doctors to perform life-threatening surgery, knowing they had shortcut their required training to operate?"

Training should always include initial and refresher training courses, continuously throughout the year and not just annually. When you schedule the refresher training, consider training methods such as tabletop drills, paper assignments, or tailgates, in addition to annual skills proficiency training.

Training must be of the highest quality and as real as can possibly be, putting the trainees through extensive exercises of stressful situations in order to prepare them for the actual stress levels they may encounter when responding to a real emergency in your facility. Be aware that some instructors do not use simulated exercise training; they train only by PowerPoint, which does not meet regulatory requirements for training. And, worse yet, some instructors train response teams to be hazmat technicians without ever having the students dress or operate in hazmat suits!

During training, coordinate with your training instructors to identify people who had the best intentions by signing up for the response team but may not be able to meet the physical or mental demands, whether due to physical fitness levels or perhaps becoming claustrophobic when in a confined space or wearing a hazmat suit. Or maybe they just are unable to keep calm during a high-stress event.

Some key items to be aware of when training (qualifying) volunteers for your response team:

1. Not everyone is cut out for emergency response:
  • During a response is not the time to find out.
  • Make this identification during training.

2. Personal response variations

  • Fight vs flight
  • Panic vs calm

3. Mental toughness

  • Queasiness upon sight of blood and injuries
  • Claustrophobia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

4. Physically fit to respond

It is extremely important to provide emergency response team members with an outlet in the event they respond to an incident that dramatically affects them. Having personnel trained in Critical Incident Stress Debriefs (CISD) or access to people trained in CISD is imperative. Most of the time, this is forgotten or not thought necessary for industrial emergency response teams.

Not only do you need to train your response team, you also need to teach all the employees on your facility emergency response plan so they know what to do in the event of an emergency. By teaching both your response team and employees, you will minimize the chaos and help reduce injuries, confusion, and excitement levels so that your response team can mitigate the emergency successfully.

Securing the Proper Equipment and Resources
Having the proper equipment is critical for your response team to fulfill its duties. Your facility is at risk if you are training your team members but not providing them the tools necessary to respond effectively. By not investing in the equipment, you cripple the overall success of your team.

Adding resources during turnarounds, shutdowns, and outages also may be needed. When there are numerous contractors on site there is a higher probability of injuries that could occur, and your response team may need assistance. Consider hiring a third-party emergency services team to supplement your team and ensure your facility is in compliance with OSHA regulations.

Going Beyond the Bare Basics
Recruitment, training, and equipment and resources are just the bare basics of building an emergency response team. Fostering a great safety culture and instilling a #1 priority mindset creates a higher-performance team that will make a difference before, during, and after an incident so that Everyone Goes Home.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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