Is Your Business Prepared?

From fires and earthquakes to chemical spills and major illness outbreaks, a disaster in the workplace can strike at any moment. Preparing workers beforehand is the best way to ensure they're ready for a potential emergency and do not become afraid or confused amidst chaos. However, research shows that many employees may not feel confident about emergency response plans. According to a 2012 study of more than 1,300 U.S. workers, 75 percent of employees believe their company is not well-prepared for a natural disaster.

To counter a lack of trust in the preparedness of your business, it is important to understand what types of mistakes organizations commit. The worst emergency planning mistakes made by businesses include:

1. Forgetting to write and update emergency action plans. Every business should have emergency action plans that detail evacuation procedures in case of fire or flood and also where employees can take shelter in the event of an earthquake or tornado. These plans should be posted in a public area and reviewed in detail in safety training sessions. Safety directors also should update emergency plans periodically to incorporate new risks or improve procedures.

2. Conducting fire drills infrequently. Fire drills should be conducted twice each year and should cover primary and alternative exit routes. Sometimes employees are slow to react, assuming it is simply a drill, or they attempt to recover personal belongings before fleeing a building. Therefore, safety directors must emphasize that everyone should evacuate immediately whenever alarms sound. Designate an evacuation meeting point so everyone understands where to go once outside, and use an employee roster to take attendance once at the meeting spot.

3. Ignoring the risk of illness. Major outbreaks, such as the H1N1 virus, can lead to prolonged absences from work and can have a significant impact on the bottom line of a business. However, companies can limit the spread of an epidemic by encouraging sick employees to stay at home while infected and alert supervisors to their condition. This allows them to notify co-workers of an outbreak and remind everyone of prevention methods. Employees should be taught to wash hands with warm water and soap and use disinfectant to avoid transmitting germs.

4. Providing inadequate tornado and earthquake shelter. Businesses in high-risk areas should designate shelters for extreme weather events and conduct annual drills. If employees are unaware of where to take shelter, chaos can ensue in times of emergency.

5. Assuming workers know how call for help in the event of an emergency. Employers should ensure that all employees at the facility know when and how to reach their emergency service providers (i.e., 9-911). Encourage employees to call 911 from a landline, as opposed to a cellular device, and post signs that indicate how to dial out using the landline. Employees also should know what to do in case emergency help is called, such as who will meet the responding emergency personnel. Because help is often more than eight to 10 minutes away, employees should be trained to perform CPR and to use an automated external defibrillator and fire extinguisher. This could be the difference between losing a worker and saving a life.

6. Failing to thoroughly educate about toxic materials. Chemicals can cause burns, explosions, and serious injuries if workers don't take proper precautions. In 2011, more than 150 workers at an Arkansas processing plant were hospitalized after human error led to the accidental mixing of two chemicals. Before allowing employees to work with chemicals, require them to complete training. Remind them to wear gloves, masks, and uniforms that cover skin completely and to read all warnings, directions, and hazard pictorials. Make sure to ventilate the work area.

7. Becoming complacent about safety. Assuming an emergency will not happen is a dangerous mentality. Businesses should never assume a fire, chemical spill, explosion, flood, or epidemic will not occur. Take a proactive approach and ensure all employees are trained on how to handle all types of disasters. Conduct training that details a variety of emergency responses, from a cardiac arrest incident or fire to a natural disaster, such as a tornado or earthquake. Taking a proactive approach will help employees react without panic if a large-scale emergency were to occur.

Understanding common mistakes businesses make in preparing for emergencies is the first step in restoring confidence in your company's emergency plans. It is important to teach employees about potential emergencies and proper response. Additionally, businesses can take a proactive approach by having training and safety equipment in place and having reactive solutions, such as AEDs, available.

John Amann ([email protected]) is vice president of First Aid & Safety at Cintas Corporation.

Posted by John Amann on Sep 20, 2012

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