Preparing Your Workplace for Emergencies and Worst-Case Scenarios

As a business owner or employer, it’s important to prioritize the safety of employees and have plans and procedures available that can be implemented quickly and efficiently.

An important lesson from 2020 for businesses is to prepare for the unexpected and unplanned. Within the year, businesses across the U.S. have faced a national public health crisis brought on by the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, spring tornados in the midwest, several tropical storms, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated the west coast and beyond. September is National Preparedness Month. This year’s theme, “Disasters don’t wait. Make your plan today,” serves as a reminder for families, communities and businesses to have emergency and disaster plans in place year-round. As a business owner or employer, it’s important to prioritize the safety of employees and have plans and procedures available that can be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Types of Disasters

Businesses can face various type of hazards, including:

  • Human-caused hazards, like workplace accidents
  • Health hazards such as widespread and serious illnesses like COVID-19
  • Natural hazards like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes
  • Technology-related hazards like equipment failure or power outages

When putting together a preparedness plan for the workplace, it’s important to take an “all-hazards” approach that takes all potential disasters into account and considers the likelihood that they will occur.

Steps to Ready Your Business for Emergencies

According to Ready.gov, the steps to developing comprehensive preparation protocols are to identify the hazards and risks, develop a plan, and take action.

When developing a workplace preparedness plan, it is important first to identify the hazards that could cause injury, property damage, environmental impact or disruption of business performance. Once the potential risks have been identified, it’s important to assess the opportunities for hazard prevention, deterrence and mitigation.

The next step is to develop a workplace emergency plan and take care to ensure that employees understand and are knowledgeable about its procedures. Along with the emergency plan, it’s important also to create a crisis communication plan to efficiently communicate with consumers, staff and suppliers during and after an emergency event occurs. The primary goal of a workplace emergency plan is protecting the lives and property in an emergency.

According to OSHA, at a minimum, an effective workplace emergency plan should include:

  • A method to report fires and other emergencies
  • An evacuation policy and procedure
  • Emergency escape procedures and routes, including floor plans, workplace maps and safe areas
  • Names, titles, departments and contact information of those that work within and outside the business to contact for details and explanation of duties and responsibilities under the plan
  • Procedures for employees who remain to perform or shut down critical operations, operate fire extinguishers or perform other essential services before evacuating
  • Rescue and medical duties for designated workers

Finally, take action. To know the effectiveness and limitations of a workplace emergency plan, business owners and employers need to test and practice the procedures. In addition, businesses should have emergency supplies on hand in the workplace. Supplies should include basic necessities like flashlights and a first-aid kit, as well as warm blankets, face masks, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer, among other items that meet the needs of potential emergencies. Business owners and employers should also review their insurance policies to ensure that there is enough coverage to meet the needs of an unexpected event or disaster. Should an emergency occur, it is important to remain calm and follow the guidelines of local officials.

Workplace Accidents

The most common emergency situations on the job are workplace accidents. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, there were 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the workplace. As a business owner or employer, it’s important to have a plan and procedures in place for when accidents occur.

First and foremost, when an injury occurs, it’s important that employees remain calm, seek immediate medical attention and, if necessary, call 911 for injuries and illnesses that require emergency treatment. All injured workers should have their conditions evaluated, treated and documented by a medical professional.

Following the immediate treatment of workplace illnesses and injuries, the worker should file an accident report as soon as possible. A worker can file a workers’ compensation claim to recover lost wages, pay medical bills or collect disability for damages that stem from the on-the-job accident.

If a victim suffers damages due to the negligence of a third-party entity or individual, outside of an employer, he or she may recover losses by filing a personal injury lawsuit. These legal actions are intended to make a victim feel “whole” after suffering an injury and can recover compensation for financial losses, medical bills, disability and pain and suffering. In this instance, an injured worker may wish to seek the legal guidance of a personal injury attorney who can review their case and advise them of their legal rights and remedies.

For all workplaces, it’s important to be prepared and have a plan in place for when disasters arise. Business owners, employers and managers should set the standard of safety by developing and implementing plans to protect employees when emergency situations occur. These preparedness plans should identify potential hazards and implement strategies to prevent, deter, and mitigate workplace risks. Workers who suffer injuries on the job may recover damages by filing a workers’ compensation claim. If a third-party’s negligence causes the injury, a victim can seek legal recourse through a personal injury lawsuit.

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