There are some typical seasonal hazards and emergencies that happen based on a facility’s unique operations. However, in 2020, several surprises hit industry. Routine preparations fell short of the COVID-19 pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, record heat waves, and civil unrest. Can any business truly prepare for all challenges? Maybe not for everything, but there are a few simple ways workers and workplaces can be ready for what else life might throw.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplaces should generally prepare for safety and response, while also considering natural disasters, chemical/biological/radiological/nu-clear/explosive incidents (CBRNE), and disease agents and toxins. Among these groups are seasonal and other potential emergency threats.
In March, a group of businesses were cited for hazards such as blocked exits, electrical panels, and fire extinguishers. After hurricanes in 2017, a chemical manufacturer was cited when an employee did not have an adequate emergency exit and drowned. In 2016, a landscaping company was cited after a worker’s fatal heat stroke in 110-degree weather.
“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable when employers help workers acclimate to hot environments, allow frequent water breaks, and ample time to rest and provide shade," said Bill McDonald, an OSHA director in St. Louis. "Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Employers must keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions."
Among the hazards created in each of these situations, the employers did not have an emergency plan in place that would have saved time and worker injury. Workplaces should take time to assess systems and processes to ensure safety in any potential emergency. Here are several steps to help prepare a written emergency action plan:
- Weather: Go into the field to evaluate and establish work rules for rain, heat, cold, snow, and other extreme conditions, such as flooding, that may be prone to the area. Consider outdoor and indoor situations. Consider post-storm plans, since hazards increase after a storm, such as electrical hazards in flooded areas.
- Assign emergency roles: There might be situations when someone needs to make sure everyone is out of a building or that machinery and equipment are powered down. Whoever has this role should understand that role and what to do when it is time.
- Exit routes/shelter in place: Plan and mark exit routes, basements, attics, and shelter-in-place designations. Be sure to mark non-exits so that workers can get safely out of a building without getting lost or stuck.
- Alarm system: Be sure that the emergency alarm system is working and tested often.
- Supplies: Make sure to mark and keep full first aid kits and eyewash and sanitation stations. Keep batteries and flashlights ready and where workers can find them if needed. Stock water and other essential commodities.
- Landline phone service: Post a list of emergency phone numbers next to a landline phone that workers can access.
- Training: Once plans are in place, go over them with workers. Use emergency maps and charts to help illustrate ideas. Practice evacuations and other emergency scenarios. Test emergency systems frequently. Include medical assistance policies and procedures. Work with fire departments and other outside agencies for specific emergencies, such as chemical spills.
- PPE: Personal protection equipment should be readily available for the types of weather conditions workers will face. For example, high visibility and arc-rated base layers for winter. Heat protection in summer.
Once facility management identifies potential emergencies, adequate preparations can ensue. Go over emergency plans with workers, who can input ideas and help make changes if necessary. Make workplace improvements ahead of time by creating frequent maintenance evaluations.
Keep written emergency plans handy. Distribute and go over those plans during safety meetings or routine emergency planning meetings. Support safety through emergency visual communication, which makes those messages stand out. Use labels and signs that are highly visible and durable in industrial conditions. Using high-quality, industrial-grade materials helps save time and money. Order premade signs and labels or create them on the spot using a DuraLabel industrial sign and label printer.
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