Preparing Your Workplace for Emergencies
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published June 03, 2021
Emergencies can happen at any time in any workplace. These situations can put people and businesses at risk and that’s why it’s important to plan, prepare operations, and train workers for optimal safety. Public relations specialist and blogger Christine Torres of Graphic Products, the manufacturer of the DuraLabel line of industrial safety sign and label printers and supplies, discusses workplace emergency planning for the #USAMfgHour chat on Twitter.
While workplace safety is important, having a safe working environment is an essential part of proactive prevention. There are various types of emergency situations that include natural disasters, environmental and workplace hazards. In the event of an emergency, communication is important. Workers also need to know what to do and where to go during an emergency. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, poor communication to and between employees costs companies as much as $62.4 million a year.
What types of natural disasters can occur in your area? Do you have protocols in place for those situations?
“They say in NJ if you don't like the weather wait 5 min. We seem to have a ton of natural disasters these days, but we get through it ok. We see hurricanes, tornados, floods, hail, ice storms, fires, and even the occasional tiny earthquakes,” said Paul Kiesche of Aviate Creative, a creative agency with an edge in manufacturing in New Jersey.
“We would most likely get severe storms and possibly tornadoes, blizzards. We have a safety manager who provides updated info on what to do, and designated shelters and policies should something happen,” said Shannon Simpson of DuraTech, a global, commercial printer, in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
“Since we're in good ole Illinois, we typically have tornados. Flooding on occasion but our shop is not located near a big enough body of water to flood. We recently moved and are reestablishing our protocols in our new home,” said Obsidian Manufacturing, the OEM for Arter grinders, Magna-Lock USA work holding, and MagnaLift and Power-Grip lift magnets, Rockford, Illinois.
“Living on the Atlantic coast we have some excellent storms. The wind gets above 80MPH at times but not enough to put a stop to the business. Cables and Internet are all below ground,” said Nigel T. Packer of PelaTis, a customer experience optimization consultant in the United Kingdom.
“Tornados are the most common. Winter storm. For us, it's not a big deal as we are an IT shop,” said Sam Gupta of ElevatIQ, a digital consultancy in New York.
“Here in MN, there's twisters, floods, hail, wind, blizzards, and extreme cold/heat. As for protocols - yes for tornadoes, but everything else is just baked into our DNA,” said Dave Meyer of BizzyWeb, growth marketers for manufacturers.
“We're on the East Coast so we don't get much beyond thunderstorms, rain, blizzards, and wind. We have designated spaces that are ideal for sheltering in place, wait out the weather,” said Julianne Schaub with Striven, an all-in-one ERP software solution in New Jersey.
“Fires, primarily. We had a fire drill at least once a quarter or when new team members joined the team,” said Bill Garland, a small-business advocate.
“We're in the Midwest, so the usual suspects, tornados, and floods. Yes, we do,” said JD Allen of Cleveland Deburring, a leading provider of deburring machines and solutions, in Ohio.
“New Jersey! Hurricanes, snowstorms, pandemics! We have a plan in place to handle each of these disruptions. We continued to update and maintain our pandemic response over the past 18 months,” said Mike Womack of NJMEP.org, a manufacturing extension program in New Jersey.
“Tornados, ice storms, and flooding are typical Midwest natural disasters. We moved just before the pandemic, so we are still playing catch up with updating our safety protocols for natural disasters,” said Sue Nordman of Obsidian.
“Great opener. Mainly power outages and maybe a tornado, but mostly snow and lots of it in the winter. If there are, I am unaware of them, they are rare here,” said Dan Bigger of Chenango Valley Technologies, a custom contract manufacturing company specializing in Plastic Injection Molding and Tooling, in New York.
Some areas face hurricanes, while others are more likely to experience earthquakes. “Some of the necessary responses will be widely different, but some steps will be shared across nearly all locations,” said Torres. Fire safety is relevant in almost every workplace; the NFPA estimates that 37,000 fires occur in industrial facilities every year. “Establishing a good plan for one potential disaster can help you build the other plans you need,” she said.
When was your emergency action plan last updated?
“We updated our emergency plan last during COVID lockdowns. The end result of the pandemic has everyone much more comfortable with working where they are and adapting to changing circumstances. We still use the office, but we're more flexible now,” said Meyer.
“This is so important for employees hired during the pandemic. I think we glossed over that part during my virtual orientation for obvious reasons. We have a bunch of safety documentation, information on our company hub. I'll have to check for it there,” said Striven.
“Yearly, or if an emergency presents itself, that specific plan is constantly monitored and maintained throughout the disaster. Our plans are distributed in onboarding materials, available on our shared drive, and discussed at our annual kick-off meeting,” said NJMEP.
“It's been some time since we last updated it - maybe 2 years ago. Soft copy on our intranet + hard copy in one of the offices here. But who prints things out anymore?” said John Buglino of Optessa, manufacturing software.
“We had a special bulletin board for emergency communications -- with copies of the MSDS sheets of every chemical we used. Each room (section) had its own. Reviewing the board and MSDS sheets were part of our training program. At a minimum, we did it once a month,” said Garland.
“We don't have an emergency plan set up but we probably will once we finalize our HR policies and grow a bit more,” said Gupta.
“All good questions, but I have not seen it or know where it is and that is probably not a good thing,” said CVT.
“With moving we wanted to redo our plan and COVID hit and the plans were basically fluid as we learned more about the virus, CDC regulations changing, etc. and we did not finish it. I know it is one of the top priorities in our immediate future,” said Obsidian.
“Yeah, saving office docs and files in encrypted spaces would be a great emergency plan for companies,” said Ruby Rusine of Social Success Marketing, which creates and implements data-driven social media strategies for B2B companies. “Know where the emergency exits are … regardless of where you are at (office, theater, restaurants, home, airplane, etc.)”
Every business with at least 10 employees must have a written Emergency Action Plan, required by OSHA in 29 CFR §1910.38. “As work processes change and your facilities are updated, some parts of your plan may get out of date. Keep your plans current and review any changes with all affected employees,” Torres said.
Do you conduct frequent safety drills?
“We used to conduct fire drills with the family when my kids were small - we should revisit that even though they're both in high school (and after today, bound for college),” said Meyer.
“I know that for the few folks in the building they are still conducting fire drills and testing alarms. I'm not sure what the frequency is,” said Striven.
“A lot of it is covered by the building management, so we don't need to worry about it separately,” said Gupta.
“Quarterly. Not always. A few people did not want to leave their machines as quickly as they needed to. We were doing precision work with some unforgiving materials. I understood their dilemma, but safety came first. I was tough about safety & my team's well-being,” said Garland.
“Yes, we do have frequent drills and they do seem to go smoothly,” said DuraTech. “We have our Maintenance Team and Training Coordinator assist with drills and updating policies, signage, alarms.”
“There hasn't been one within the NJ offices in the last month (since we've returned). Typically, these were conducted quarterly across our offices in NJ, CA, and India,” said Optessa
“We do not but we should. Putting that on the list of things to add. Thank you,” said Nordman.
“Again, bad news. We haven't. Not while I have been here,” said CVT.
“Not for my team. We all work remote,” said Rusine.
“Communication and info - just a conversation on the topic of emergency planning is good for home life too. Sometimes people don't think anything will happen and cannot react well when something does happen,” said Torres.
“Emergencies can make people behave irrationally, so rehearsing disaster responses are helpful to learn what to do like evacuation or finding shelter,” Torres said. “Look for areas where workers could become trapped and mark exit routes.”
Keeping up with Communication
Are exits, extinguishers, safety equipment, and rooms identified?
“Exits are but we need a little work on the other ones,” said Kirsten Austin of DCSC, the developer of DCWarehouse, a WMS, shipping and supply chain solution for distributors and manufacturers.
“I finally can answer, yes, we have that one covered well here,” said CVT.
“Continuous improvements aren't just for the production process! A step forward each day is still progress,” said NJMEP.
“For the most part, yes. Internal office rooms are not identified – however, building/complex rooms are clearly labeled,” said Optessa.
“All our exits, extinguishers, and informative graphics are labeled and clearly visible. We recently just purchased defibrillators and those spots are being designated and labeled, soon! Always looking to create a safer environment for our team and clients,” said NJMEP
“Yes! A question that I can finally simply answer!” said Nordman.
“yes, it is provided by our building management. We never paid attention to what we are paying for this, but I am sure they are charging a hefty fee for it,” said Gupta.
OSHA has rules for signage for means of egress (29 CFR 1910 Subpart E). Exits must have Exit signs with letters at least 6” high. “If no exit is visible, a sign or path should point toward the nearest exit,” said Torres. “Doors that can be mistaken for an exit need a ‘Not An Exit’ sign or should be identified by its use, such as ‘Janitorial Closet.’ Visitors and others unfamiliar with your building will also need to be able to easily exit.”
When were workers last trained for emergency plans? What changes came from those trainings?
“We need to do a lot more training here. Problem is, we have been adding new employees like crazy. We have to catch our breath from all the change first,” said CVT.
“When we were going through LEAN, we had a lot of people coming to help frequently so I did a weekly training specifically for them. One of them found a bottle of chemicals had not been placed back in the chemical cabinet. The entire team was reminded to do it,” said Garland.
“Our insurance company provides a library of safety training videos. The plan is to start those up again. We got off track from COVID,” said Nordman.
“I think the fire drills are part of the routine through the building management. They train us as and when required. But they cover for us,” said Gupta.
“Very valuable information here. I worked for a company that went above and beyond in terms of emergency planning. Beyond the value of that for safety - as an employee, I always felt that if they did that well, then it was just a great place to work. So retention,” said Gail Robertson of GailNOW marketing.
Communication is key to proper workplace response in an emergency and should be supported by diligent leadership.
“Work under the assumption that employees will need all the direction and aid you can possibly provide in a crisis, and you will be more effective at finding hazards,” Torres said. “Help employees create a mental map of the building, safety equipment, and emergency exits.”
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