Workplace emergency planning
Ever thought about how your business would cope in an emergency? Many business owners either don’t like to think about emergencies or feel the risk isn’t enough to spend time and resources planning for one. A large-scale emergency could cause your business to grind to a halt, affecting your employees, customers, your equipment and even your premises. The implication could be reduced market share, long-term uncertainty or even failure.
After the 1989 San Francisco Bay Earthquake, it’s estimated that 50% of small businesses in Santa Cruz were permanently disabled. The directly related loss of jobs significantly impacted the economy of the area. Businesses that plan for emergencies are able to resume business as soon as practical after life safety concerns and initial damage assessments are dealt with.
The best way to reduce the impact of emergencies is to develop systems and devise a plan that your business can rely on in the event of unforeseen events.
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An emergency is any unplanned event that threatens employees or customers, causes physical damage or shuts down business operations.
Events could range in nature from employee emergencies such as accidents in the workplace, sudden life-threatening events such as a heart attack or stroke, through to natural events such as earthquakes and fires.
Types of man-made or natural emergencies that could affect your business:
- severe illness or sudden injury
- power outage
- chemical spills
Employers are responsible for making sure employees are safe at work. This is covered by the Health and Safety in Employment Act (1992).
This means you are legally required to:
- systematically identify and manage hazards
- manage hazards by eliminating them, isolating them or minimising them (in that order of preference)
- provide suitable protective clothing and equipment to staff
- provide safety information to staff
- provide training or supervision so that work is done safely
- monitor the health of employees to ensure their work is not having a detrimental effect on their health
- provide opportunities for your staff to contribute to all those things.
To satisfy your legal responsibilities as an employer, you will need to demonstrate a commitment to health and safety by providing training and developing systems for dealing with emergencies and disasters. The best way to ensure your employees are protected is to develop a comprehensive emergency plan that you can use to educate and train your staff.
During an emergency and in the hours following the event, it’s impossible to remember everything you will need to do to keep yourself and your employees safe and your business secure without a documented emergency plan.
Preparing for every kind of emergency is difficult, but depending on your industry you should have a good idea of the types of risk you face at work. This can form the basis of an emergency plan to minimise the effects of an emergency on your staff or business. For example, if you operate a workshop that contains heavy machinery or chemicals, your emergency plan should include a strategy for how to deal with specific scenarios such as a chemical spill or electrical fire. For retail businesses, an emergency plan could account for other scenarios such as a violent customer or an armed robbery.
All emergency plans should have comprehensive guidelines on evacuating your premises, assembly areas, shutting off gas and electricity and assisting injured colleagues and customers.
Here’s what a comprehensive emergency plan should contain.
- A detailed floor plan. This details potential workplace hazards and the location of utilities, emergency equipment and supplies.
- Evacuation procedures. This outlines safe evacuation passages and meeting areas in the event of fire or building damage.
- Emergency response. This details who will be the floor warden(s) or safety co-ordinator(s) to assist staff and customers in an emergency situation. This will typically also contain details on who has completed basic first aid training.
- Fire management checklist. This checklist documents the location of fire extinguishers and safety equipment, and suggests regularly checking that sprinklers, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers are working properly.
- Emergency supplies and first aid checklist. This can include food, water and first aid supplies to last for up to three days.
- Utilities checklist – gas, electrical. This includes appointing a staff member responsible for turning off the gas or power in the event of a major emergency such as an earthquake, flood or fire.
- Business recovery plan. This is a detailed plan or checklist of things your business will need to do to return to business and solve any potential issues. This real-life case study of how a business got back on its feet following a major earthquake could help (Mediterranian Food Company).
Civil Defence has made it easy for businesses to complete an emergency plan by providing a free-to-use sample Emergency Plan. Civil Defence also has a helpful web portal containing practical tips to get your business prepared for emergencies and disasters.
Remember, an emergency plan shouldn’t be something that is developed then filed away. To ensure your plan is effective, you will need to involve your employees in the planning process and communicate why it’s important. You should also consider making the emergency plan part of the induction process for new staff or part of your general training material.