Expect the Unexpected - Evaluating your Emergency Action Plan
If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we should expect the unexpected. As a safety leader, expecting the unexpected is in your job description. Emergencies can come from any number of different places – weather, illness, fire, toxins or chemicals, and more. So how do you combat the emergencies that are bound to happen?
It starts with a plan...an emergency action plan.
While emergencies are, by definition, sudden events, their occurrence can be predicted with some degree of certainty. The first thing to consider is the type of emergencies that are most likely to affect your location or industry. For example, if your facility is located near the Gulf coast you should have hurricane and flood plans in place. If your facility stores or handles chemicals, a toxic chemical release or spill plan will be necessary. Every business has unique vulnerabilities, so being prepared for the emergencies that are most likely to affect you – whether natural or manmade – will help you recover faster. Regardless of your location or situation, it’s important to be vigilant and proactive. You must plan for any expected or unexpected interruption in order to ensure your employees, visitors and company assets are safe.
It’s likely that your organization already has emergency action plans in place, but it’s a good idea to periodically revisit them. Things change so your plans must also evolve. Going through the planning process can bring to light a lack of resources or other deficiencies that need your attention. The emergency planning process also promotes safety awareness and highlights your company’s commitment to the safety of your employees. On the flip side, the lack of a thorough emergency plan can result in severe loss from employee injury to financial devastation.
Creating a thorough emergency action plan starts with a realistic understanding of what can happen. Completing a risk assessment will help identify potential hazards and analyze what could happen if a hazard occurs. Taking time to assess the potential risk to people, property, operations and the environment can reduce the actual damage done to them during an emergency.
Create a Plan
Once risks are identified, a plan must be written. OSHA general industry standard 1910.38 outlines the minimum requirements for emergency action plans. OSHA identifies other standards according to industry sector, for example Construction: 29 CFR 1926.35; Longshoring: 29 CFR 1917.30; Mining: 30 CFR Part 75, Subpart P.
Download our Emergency Action Plan Checklist to learn how to evaluate your current emergency action plan and analyze your employee training and drills.
To ensure your emergency action plan will be successful, you should conduct a needs assessment to determine the resources needed to execute the plan. Resources will include proper personal protective equipment (PPE), communication equipment and people trained in CPR and first aid who are available to respond quickly. If you are located in a hurricane threatened area you may need plywood to board up windows and sandbags to prevent flooding. Areas often heavy hit by severe winter weather will require salt, shovels or snowplows. Some resources may come from within your business, but others may require you to partner with external sources such as public emergency services or business partners. Regardless of whether the resources you need are people or materials, it’s critical that you have what you need readily available.
The next crucial step is to inform your employees of the emergency action plan. Training should be conducted on a regular basis to make sure everyone is aware of the steps that should be taken in the case of an emergency. Depending on the size of your business, you may create a safety team or appoint safety leaders who are trained to direct evacuation or sheltering. Regardless of their role, all employees must be aware of the plan and feel confident of the company’s execution of it in a time of emergency.
While the first priority during an emergency is the safety of people, afterwards there are important follow up actions that must occur to ensure a quick and thorough recovery.
Crisis Communication Plan
Your business must be able to respond quickly, truthfully and confidently in the hours and days that follow an emergency. Possible audiences to consider are employees and families, customers and suppliers, community leaders and neighboring businesses, news media and regulatory entities. The way employees or the public perceive the handling of an emergency can impact your brand in either a positive or negative way.
Business Continuity Plan
If your business is disrupted because of an emergency, it can result in unexpected expenses and lost revenues. A business continuity plan is essential for the health and future of your company. According to ready.gov, development of a business continuity plan includes four steps:
- Conduct a business impact analysis to identify time-sensitive or critical business functions and processes and the resources that support them.
- Identify, document, and implement to recover critical business functions and processes.
- Organize a business continuity team and compile a business continuity plan to manage a business disruption.
- Conduct training for the business continuity team and testing and exercises to evaluate recovery strategies and the plan.
After the Emergency
Part of the recovery process may include offering support or assistance to employees and their family. This assistance could be monetary but not always. Many companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) that gives employees access to professionals who can assist in dealing with the emotional or legal impacts of an emergency or disaster. You can also consider partnering with local organizations who provide services or support in the aftermath of disasters such as churches, food banks or other non-profits.
Once you know your employees and their families are safe, your building is secure and your business is back online, it will be important to do a self-assessment. Take time to meet with employees from all departments and levels within your organization to ask how they thought the emergency was handled. Take a good, honest look at your emergency action plan to assess what worked and what can be improved.
As a safety professional, you must always plan for and expect the unexpected. Are you and your organization ready?