The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) urges workplaces and communities to be prepared this hurricane season, which runs from June through November. Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for business preparedness, ASSE is offering safety-preparation tips, a disaster-safety checklist, and resources to assist businesses of all sizes before, during, and after a disaster.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting 13 to 16 named storms, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes (of which four to six could become “major” hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher) for the 2006 hurricane season.
According to an October 2005 survey of small businesses conducted by the Ad Council, 92 percent of respondents said that it is "very important" or "somewhat important" for businesses to take steps to prepare for a catastrophic disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or terrorist attack. However, only 39 percent said their company has a plan in place in the event of such a disaster.
In light of this here are some tips to follow to prepare now:
Do a Risk Assessment. This can range from self-assessment to an extensive engineering study. The specific industry, size, and scope of your company determine your organization's risk-assessment needs. Know what kinds of emergencies might affect your company. Find out which natural disasters are most common in the areas where you operate at (www.ready.gov/america/natural_disasters.html). Learn what to do during a biological, chemical, explosive, nuclear, or radiological attack at (www.ready.gov/america/be_informed.html).
Do Emergency Planning Now. Start planning to improve the likelihood that your company will survive and recover. Carefully assess how your company functions, both internally and externally, to determine which staff, materials, procedures, and equipment are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating; identify operations critical to survival and recovery; include emergency payroll, expedited financial decision-making, and accounting systems to track and document costs in the event of a disaster; and establish procedures for succession of management. Include at least one person who is not at the company headquarters, if applicable. Homeland Security suggests that you identify your suppliers, shippers, resources, and other businesses you must interact with on a daily basis, and develop professional relationships with more than one company in case your primary contractor cannot service your needs.
Plan. Plan what you will do if your building, plant, or store is not accessible, and develop a continuity-of-operations plan that includes all facets of your business. For instance, determine if you can run the business from a different location or from your home, and develop relationships with other companies to use their facilities in case a disaster makes your location unusable.
Define Procedures. Define crisis-management procedures and individual responsibilities in advance, and make sure those involved know what they are supposed to do, train others in case you need back-up help, and review your emergency plans annually. Just as your business changes over time, so do your preparedness needs.
Coordinate with Others. Meet with other businesses in your building or industrial complex; talk with first responders, emergency managers, community organizations and utility providers; plan with your suppliers, shippers, and others you regularly do business with; share your plans and encourage other businesses to set in motion their own continuity planning; and offer to help others.
Emergency Planning for Employees. Your employees and coworkers are a valuable asset. You need to know what people need to recover after a disaster. It is possible that your staff will need time to ensure the well being of their family members, but getting back to work is important to the personal recovery of people who have experienced disasters. It is important to re-establish routines, when possible.
Following a disaster, all businesses should do a hazard evaluation and assessment performed by an occupational safety professional that includes the following:
Structural Security. Have the structural integrity of the building or facility validated by qualified professionals before anyone enters the facility.
Safe Entry. Contact the proper government agencies to get approval to resume occupancy of the building. Do not enter a facility or building unless the proper clearances have been attained.
Clean-Up Safety. Implement your clean-up and business resumption processes in a safe and healthful manner. You will accomplish nothing if your employees are injured or killed during the post-disaster phase-in period. Provide training in the proper selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for your employees and yourself such as eyewear, gloves, boots, and dust masks/respirators for cleaning and, where appropriate, in other operations.
Air Quality Assessment. Make sure the atmosphere in the workplace environment is tested for asbestos and other chemical/toxic agents. Air quality is an issue businesses should pay careful attention to when restarting business operations.
Ventilation. Have vents checked to assure that water heaters and gas furnaces are clear and operable. Dust and debris can stop or impede airflow decreasing its quality and healthfulness. Safely start up HVAC systems, which includes prior inspection of lines before energizing and pressurizing of the systems. Test your systems now after inspection or have a qualified specialist do so. Blow cold air through HVAC systems first, as opposed to warm air, as it will help prevent mold growth in duct systems.
Interior & Exterior Exposures. For interior spaces, ensure that no wall or ceiling materials are in danger of falling. If such exposures do exist, the work environment is not ready for occupancy. Check for cracked windows and outside building materials, as these could fall onto pedestrians at any time.
Protection Equipment. For fire and smoke alarms, it is important to assure that these have been cleaned and tested before allowing occupancy of the building. If such systems are wired into other systems, ensure that they are still compatible and work in an efficient and effective manner. Thorough inspection of fire-fighting systems, such as sprinkler and chemical equipment functions, is a must.
Electrical Safety. Have checks made of electrical systems, computer cables, and telecommunications equipment to ensure that they are still safe and there is no danger of exposure to electricity. Wiring inspections should be conducted from the outside in to ensure that all wiring and connections are not in danger of shorting out due to water damage from rain or fire-fighting efforts.
Use Existing Federal Guidelines. Use existing start-up guidance materials provided by government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (http://www.fema.gov) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh).
Health/Sanitation Issues. The general facility sanitation systems with the facility should be inspected and tested to guard against potential employee exposure to toxic agents. Food sanitation should also be addressed. Any unused food should be discarded. If the workspace has a kitchen, inspect oven hoods and other ventilation devices to ensure they are not clogged and are working efficiently.
Office Furniture. Inspect the furniture to ensure it can withstand expected loads and usages. Ensure that binder bins (storage devices screwed or bolted to railing systems on walls and panels) have not become unstable due to water damage or to shaking due to explosions. Inspect office equipment to ensure that it is level, stable, and cannot tip over.
Lighting. Make sure there are adequate illumination levels for employees. Emergency lighting should be checked to ensure it operates and functions in the correct manner.
Emergency Evacuation Planning. Ensure that there is a clear path of egress for the emergency evacuation of employees, that fire extinguishers are still operable and that checks for damage and serviceability are made to see if any fire extinguisher facilities were used during the disaster. If damage is found, they should be replaced immediately.
Solid/Hazardous Waste Removal. Broken glass, debris, or other materials with sharp edges should be safely gathered and disposed of immediately. Ensure that such materials can be disposed of before collection to avoid creating even bigger hazards for both employees and the public. Solid waste disposal will be an issue, especially if hazardous waste is involved. Evaluate waste disposal issues prior to clean-up operations.
Power Checks. If there is no access to electricity on the site, do not use fueled generators or heaters indoors. Ensure that there are no gas or sewer leaks in your facility. You will need to check with your local utilities for information regarding power, gas, water, and sewer usage.
Check Mainframes. If your facility has mainframe computer applications, check lines and cabling for chiller systems to avoid chemical leak-out.
Emergency Procedures. Create a new emergency plan and distribute it to employees as soon as they return to work. In case of emergency, designate a place for employees to gather once out of the building or establish a phone number they should call following the emergency so that all can be accounted for. Frequently update the emergency contact list of names and phone numbers.
Machine Inspections. Inspect the condition of drain, fill, plumbing, and hydraulic lines on processes and machines. Have plumbing lines evaluated and tested in order to detect any hazardous gases.
Surfaces. Make sure flooring surfaces are acceptable and free from possible slips, trips, and falls. Falls are the second leading cause of on-the-job deaths in the United States and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatal work injuries involving falls were up 17 percent in 2004. ANSI Standard A1264 - Safety Requirements for Workplace Floor and Wall Openings, Stairs and Railing Systems - is a good starting point to help prevent falls.
This information was reprinted with permission from the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE, the oldest and largest safety organization. Its more than 30,000 members manage, supervise, and consult on safety health and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor and education. For more information visit ASSE's website at (www.asse.org/newsroom) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).