Pets at Work

According to the American Pet Products Association, 17 percent of Americans work at a pet-friendly workplace. This number seems to be growing as the benefits of pets in the workplace are more publicized and acknowledged. Allowing pets in the office can create a better place to work and attract a special, high-performing, and caring employee base. Employees also tend to feel more inspired, more creative, and more comfortable. And executives can take pride in seeing their employees happy and thriving. So when considering workplace safety, it's becoming more important to consider the pets that could be in the workplace when an emergency occurs.

So how does one get started in developing an emergency plan for the office? To start, it's important to connect with a local fire official, who is typically a wealth of information and a friendly resource. This person can help with specifics on local fire code requirements and what kind of elements need to be included for different types of occupancies. For example, some elements that need to be included in a pet-friendly office plan are the following:

  • Preferred and alternative means of notifying employees of a fire or emergency
  • Floor plans that include escape routes, locations of manual fire alarm boxes and portable fire extinguishers, and locations where employees should gather once evacuated
  • The identification and assignment of employees responsible for leading the evacuation of other employees and pets in their area
  • Protocols for pets being left behind by their owners
  • Identification of employees responsible for emergency medical care for other employees and pets

Remember, fire safety and evacuation plans should be reviewed and updated annually or as necessitated by changes in staff, occupancy, or the physical arrangement of the building. Developing a pet team comprised of representatives from all departments (including the executive team) who enforce a thoughtful pet policy will be helpful in remembering to address these issues on a regular basis.

Practice of these plans is key. It is important for employees to practice fire drills and emergency evacuation procedures so these procedures are ingrained if an emergency strikes. It's equally important to make sure pets are part of the evacuation/emergency drills so they aren't as shocked with the loud noises and commotion that comes with an evacuation.

Helping employees understand pet behavior during an emergency will also lead to success. A fire may be scary to people but are even scarier to animals, as they do not know what is going on. For example, pets react to smoke alarms in different ways. The noise could lead them to panic, where the pet will pant, pace, shake, hide, salivate, and even harm themselves trying to escape from confinement. Firefighters approaching pets in fire gear and oxygen tanks can cause the same type of reaction. Again, the best way to help pets stay calm during an emergency is practice. Regular fire drills will help with reactions to the smoke alarm, but also consider inviting firefighters to visit the office in all the fire gear and approach every pet with treats to help train the pets not to fear these visitors.

Creating a quarterly email newsletter with these types of tips and tricks will also help keep pet behavior top of mind in the event of an emergency.

With a little preparation and regular practice, pets can be just as prepared and safe as employees during an emergency or evacuation.

Erich Wuhrman is the VP of human resources at Trupanion, a leading pet insurance company that is passionate about building a strong pet community both inside and outside the office. He has been instrumental in developing and managing Trupanion's pet-friendly workplace, including preparing employees and their pets for an emergency.


Posted by Erich Wuhrman on Sep 19, 2013

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