How To Prepare for a Natural Disaster in Your Workplace
4 April 2023 - Evotix
Being prepared for unpredictable natural disasters can be a challenge, but it’s increasingly necessary in today’s world. This year alone, we’ve already seen a massive earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, while Cyclone Gabrielle has devastated parts of Australia and New Zealand.
In 2020, the Ecological Threat Register reported a tenfold increase in the number of worldwide natural disasters since 1960. According to the UN’s Global Assessment Report, that number is predicted to rise.
Today’s most common natural disasters include floods, earthquakes, storms (including cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and dust storms), wildfires, droughts, landslides and volcanic activity.
Workplaces often bear significant losses as a result of natural disasters. Destructive events like floods, storms and wildfires can take an unpredictable toll on workers, causing damages, injuries and even death. In the aftermath of a disaster, businesses may experience losses in productivity, increased absenteeism, lower employee morale and higher turnover. As a result, companies must proactively do everything they can to protect their employees and their workplaces.
Each of the disasters mentioned above presents a unique set of risks, and certain workplaces are more disposed to some disasters than others. An organization’s location, alongside other features such as workforce size, building layout and the handling of dangerous chemicals, materials or machines, makes it necessary for each organization to prepare by creating a unique procedure for each potential disaster.
These procedures are known as Emergency Action Plans (EAPs).
What is an Emergency Action Plan?
An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is a written plan that aims to organize employer and worker actions during an emergency. An EAP may also be referred to as an emergency response plan or an emergency procedure.
Developing an EAP can boost your organization’s ability to withstand the risks presented by natural disasters and minimize injuries, damage and losses. EAPs often include features such as workplace floor plans, procedures for reporting emergencies and dedicated assembly locations.
A detailed, thorough EAP is the hallmark of a proactive approach to health and safety management. While all companies should employ both proactive and reactive actions regarding health and safety, prioritizing a proactive approach can reduce incidents by identifying and resolving workplace hazards before they can cause incidents. This is the active principle in creating an EAP.
Who should be involved in creating an EAP?
While your organization’s leadership and EHS professionals are central to the creation of an EAP, everyone involved in your workplace should be involved in the process.
Employees are often overlooked in the creation of an EAP. However, just as they are uniquely situated to notice hazards that might be missed by management, employees may be able to judge the effectiveness of preparations more accurately than leadership.
Working directly with the machinery, vehicles and/or materials on your site can give employees insight into the preparations that may be needed in the case of a natural disaster. For example, an employee may be able to recommend that a particularly dangerous machine be shut down during emergency preparations to minimize damage to the site when a disaster strikes.
How should an EAP be communicated to employees?
An EAP can only minimize the damage and losses incurred by a natural disaster when communicated to everyone in your workplace. Employees and management need to understand their roles and responsibilities in the case of an emergency.
OSHA recommends that copies of an EAP be distributed to all employees or placed in a central location where employees can find it in the case of an emergency. If an organization employs fewer than 10 employees, OSHA recommends that an EAP be communicated orally.
In addition, it’s important that your EAP be straightforward and easy to comprehend. When it comes to EHS procedures, simple is always better.
Does OSHA require EAPs?
In the U.S., OSHA requires EAPs for most, but not all businesses. Under OSHA’s regulations, organizations working with dangerous substances, materials or machines are required to create a more detailed plan.
For businesses in the U.S., OSHA offers a tool to help determine whether you need an EAP.
In the UK, HSE requires an EAP for all businesses.
But whether or not your organization is required to have one, OSHA recommends an EAP for all businesses as it can help you minimize the adverse effects of a natural disaster.
What does OSHA dictate that an EAP include?
The HSE in the U.K. has a similar list of recommendations. If you do business in the UK, visit this link.
Be sure to include a preferred method and/or procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies.
Designate emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps and safe or refuge areas.
Include procedures to account for all workers after an evacuation, such as designating an assembly location (e.g., a safe/refuge area).
Compile names, titles, departments and phone numbers of individuals both within and outside the company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan.
Record procedures for workers who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating.
Note rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them.
How to develop an Emergency Action Plan:
1. Identify the risks of the disasters most likely to occur. These location-specific disasters will help to dictate the procedures your organization needs to create. For example, an organization located in a coastal city will more likely experience a hurricane while a business based in a frigid location will more likely experience a blizzard.
2. Include a diverse group of representatives. OSHA recommends that you include management, workers, local health departments and agencies and public safety officials/members in the planning process. If a specific individual is needed when the plan is carried out, that individual should be present as the plan is being created.
3. Designate response leaders. Communicate with these leaders and make sure they’re aware of their roles and responsibilities.
4. Develop a shelter and/or evacuation strategy. Everyone should know how to evacuate and where to go.
5. Mark the location of emergency supplies. Make it clear where they reside, regularly review supplies and make sure items don’t expire.
6. Establish communication channels. OSHA states that “the employee alarm system shall be distinctive and recognizable as a signal to evacuate the work area or to perform actions designated under the Emergency Action Plan.”
7. Review your EAP regularly and when changes are made. When changes are made in your workplace, such as the installment of a new machine or vehicle, it’s important to review your EAP and make any necessary changes. Remember, include any employees directly involved in the change in the review.
8. Practice often. Ensure that your entire organization is participating in regular, thorough emergency response practices.
Creating, distributing and following an EAP is the most effective way to protect your workers and your workplace from the damages and losses that a natural disaster could cause.
To learn more about proactive health and safety management, visit our blog: The Difference Between Reactive and Proactive Health and Safety Management.
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