You may be doing great when it comes to day-to-day safety…But what about emergencies that disrupt your operations altogether? It’s critical to develop and implement an effective Emergency Response Plan to keep employees safe if unexpected events occur.
Here are 6 common mistakes you’ll want to avoid when it comes to preparing your business for an emergency.
1. Lack of employee training on how to respond.
High-performing employees often have a great deal of experience in their field, and so they’ve had a lot of practice in their roles. It’s a mistake to assume that these same individuals will know how to react and respond if an emergency occurs, explains Karen Hamel, CSP, WACH, a regulatory compliance specialist and technical writer at New Pig Corp. (New Pig Corp specializes in workplace safety and spill containment products.)
Never expect these people to respond to emergencies instinctively, adds Hamel. “They need to be trained on their specific roles and they should be given opportunities to perform or to practice those roles,” she says.
“Even though emergency response skills won’t be used daily, and perhaps they won’t ever be used, those abilities need to be utilized often enough that when the time comes, everyone can recall them,” she says.
Hamel has also seen companies purchase special, costly equipment in preparation for emergencies, but then workers rarely use that equipment. “That equipment may sit in the back of a warehouse, or it sits on a shelf, and nobody knows how to use it over time,” she says.
Be sure you have proper, ongoing training so multiple people know how to operate things like backhoes, forklifts, earth-moving equipment, or other specialty equipment. Have those resources listed out, and do cross-training when appropriate.
2. Failure to update your Emergency Response Plan.
You need to make sure that your plans are still accurate, and plan for the fact that it will need updating over time. “As facility needs change, and as people move from different departments, those can be times when people overlook how the plan needs to change,” says Hamel. At minimum, Hamel says your plan needs to include:
- How you will specifically report an emergency
- A description of emergency escape routes and evacuation procedures
- A means of accounting for employees after an evacuation
- The responsibilities of employees who will perform rescue or medical functions
- Names or job titles of contacts that can provide information or services during an emergency
If you don’t look at the plan frequently, and if you don’t rehearse or drill that plan frequently, it can become out of date and become useless.
3. Insufficient relationships with key contacts.
If you are going to rely on the fire department or an ambulance service, or another service, you need to have those contacts established beforehand.
A mistake many organizations make is to simply think, “We’re going to use the local hospital, or the local bus company,” without having any kind of relationship with those people beforehand.
“You need to have an association with those people so that they know that you’re going to use them in an emergency,” says Hamel. Going though that process, developing those relationships with them, and confirming they will be available is important.
One way to train employees while establishing contacts with fire, police, and EMS contacts is to have them run your drills.
“This is an increasingly popular way to help both on-site and off-site responders understand each other’s capabilities. Outside responders also provide additional perspective and can help identify plan and procedural strengths and weaknesses.”
4. Lack of accountability in Your Emergency Response Plan.
Is it clear who is going to be responsible for doing what? Is the safety department or HR responsible for training? Are the managers in each department going to conduct the training? “You need that accountability so that somebody in particular is responsible for every element within the plan,” says Hamel.
It could be that one person is responsible for reviewing the plan and another person is responsible for training. A third person may be responsible for checking spill kits, or whatever the specific resource may be. Accountability is what makes sure things do get done.
5. Using excuses to avoid planning.
Not all companies have a regulatory specialist, or a planning person on-site, but that shouldn’t keep you from planning for the health and safety of your workers. It’s a mistake to use any excuse (such as company size or perceived lack of resources) not to plan.
If you don’t know where to start, see if your city has a Local Emergency Planning Committee (or LEPC).
They can help you prepare and in many cases, write out your plans. “Some of them will even walk you through a business continuity plan,” says Hamel. “In most communities, it’s a free resource for companies to make sure they’ve covered all their bases, and to check that they are as prepared as they think they are.”
6. Thinking your plan has to be perfect.
Your plan will never be perfect, and you’re never going to be able to predict exactly how a disaster or emergency may occur, so don’t expect your plan to be perfect.
“It doesn’t matter if the plan looks perfect on paperanyway, especially if nobody knows how to enact what’s in the plan.” Rather than expect the plan to be perfect, do what you can to be realistic, to equip employees to the best of your ability, and to practice the plan you come up with.
“As people practice, and as drills go on, you’re going to find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s important to capture those changes and reflect them in your plan,” explains Hamel.
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