Hurricane season runs from June until November. Every winter brings the chance of blizzards and extreme cold. Destructive tornadoes or floods can occur throughout the year in many parts of the country. Are you confident your business could respond to and cope with any of these disasters?
Even when it’s not required, OSHA recommends that all businesses create an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). An EAP is your game plan on what needs to be done and by whom in case of an emergency, covering everything from fire alarms to evacuation plans. Laying out these guidelines in advance ensures you’re never caught off guard in a crisis and can maintain control before, during and after the incident.
Identify the risks for your business and region
As a first step to drafting your company’s EAP, consider the absolute worst-case scenarios. Take into account your business’s location and the most common natural disasters in your area. If you’re in Illinois, for example, you probably won’t encounter any earthquakes or hurricanes, but you might have to deal with a blizzard.
You should also conduct a hazard assessment of your workplace. Do your operations involve any potentially dangerous equipment or hazardous chemicals? They require different safety procedures, so check on the specifics. Keep in mind, too, that if you have more than one worksite, you will need more than one EAP to address differences in floor plans, equipment and materials.
Try to involve your employees throughout the process, both in the planning and when assigning emergency response roles. If your employees have clearly defined tasks, they’ll know precisely what to do in an actual emergency. For example, Employee A is in charge of taking a headcount after an evacuation, Employee B is trained on CPR techniques, Employee C needs to shut down certain operations before an evacuation, and so on.
According to OSHA, your emergency plan should include the following:
- Preferred method for reporting emergencies: Outside of 911, who else should be notified immediately? How will all employees be contacted?
- Evacuation policy and procedure: When is an evacuation necessary? Who can order an evacuation? Who is able to assist in evacuations? Which employees have disabilities or don’t speak English, and how can they be helped?
- Emergency escape procedures and route assignments: Are there alternate routes in case the first is too dangerous? Where should employees go when they are evacuated? What happens once everyone has reached safety? What about non-employees in your workplace?
- Names, titles and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside your company to contact for additional information: Is anyone included in the EAP who is not at the office every day? What if a supervisor or owner isn’t in the office?
- Procedures for employees who remain: Will any employees need to stay to shut down operations? What needs to be done to contain the situation?
- Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them: Is anyone certified to perform first-aid services like CPR? Who is in charge of first-aid kits? Where is the nearest hospital?
Put your plan to the test
Once you develop your EAP, you need to educate your staff on the details. If you work with less than 10 employees, you can communicate the plan verbally, although it’s always a good idea to have it in writing. Include employee roles and contact information in your plan and if you’ve created visuals of your emergency exits and evacuation routes, be sure to post them prominently.
Next, you’ll want to put your EAP to the test. Hold regular drills, involving nearby fire departments or the police whenever possible. After these drills, ask for employee feedback. Was anything difficult or confusing? Did the procedure take too long? Can anything be improved? With this input, revise your EAP. Any time you modify your plan, your equipment, your materials or your office layout, train your employees on the updates.
Remember: The amount of lost time and productivity after a major disaster will ultimately come down to your preparations and training. With effective communication and employee cooperation, you can keep recovery time to a minimum and your business standing after a crisis.