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4 Keys to Safe Emergency Response

Mar 06, 2019
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When presented with a workplace emergency, having a plan in place is crucial. Preparation can mean the difference between minimal damage and workplace injuries and fatalities. Proper emergency response is all about mitigating the consequences of an event, saving lives and ultimately returning the business to normal operations. Here are four steps you can take to ensure that your business is prepared in the event of an emergency. 

1. Identify Potential Emergencies

Like much work in the field of safety, effective emergency management is based on hazard analysis, which sets the foundation for an emergency response plan. The purpose of a hazard analysis is two-fold; first to identify any emergency scenarios that need to be planned for, and second to prioritize hazards and the resources needed to mitigate them. 

 “Emergency identification should be through a systematic analysis that incorporates a logical screening process and includes a cross section of the leadership teams,” says Gabriel Miehl, safety programs manager at GE Transportation. “Including operations, support functions, C-suite executives and frontline employees in the process will ensure a robust evaluation of potential emergencies.” 

Possible emergencies will depend somewhat on the nature of a facility’s operations. Therefore, it’s crucial for organizations to examine any and all emergencies that could take place, and to assess the potential consequences of those events. For instance, while a power outage at a welding fabrication shop may be seen as a minor inconvenience, a similar incident at a hospital with life support systems has major repercussions for patient well-being. 

Furthermore, while some instances such as these may be obvious, there are other, less common emergencies such as cybersecurity breaches, workplace suicides and drug overdoses that should be considered during response plan development. 

“Planning for these types of scenarios will benefit from engaging outside resources like utility companies or employee assistance programs in order to develop a hazard analysis and response plans for these scenarios,” says Miehl. 

2. Develop a Plan

Planning for an emergency requires all involved to consider what needs to happen before, during and after the event. In this part of the process, the safety professional’s foremost role is as the subject- matter expert who will facilitate the plan development, as well as identify and engage members of the emergency response team. 

Emergency response plans should be divided into three key areas:

  1. Pre-event planning: Prior to the event, focus on resource identification and training. Resource identification includes both physical resources, such as equipment and infrastructure, as well as the capabilities of the personnel on-site.
  2. Event planning: Focus on mitigating the event with the goal of returning the facility to normal operations. This will include procedures, checklists and other guidance documents for the individuals identified in pre-event planning to act on.
  3. Recovery planning: Focus on returning to normal operations once the event is mitigated and a level of safety has been established. This includes contingency planning to repair or replace damaged infrastructure, materials and similar elements.

3. Designate Roles and Responsibilities

An emergency response plan will encompass both internal and external resources, utilizing their capabilities to carry out the elements outlined above. In terms of the safety professional on-site, their role will be dictated by both the plan and the event. 

 “Once the plan is developed, the safety professional could fill a number of roles, from responder, to safety officer, to research or public information officer, based on their skill set and event needs,” says Miehl. “The safety professional can tailor their professional development to help them engage with these positions more effectively.” 

Internal resources will be cross-functional and include those found in departments across the operation. For instance, human resources will help manage recall, payroll and information needs, while operations staff will manage functional actions needed to mitigate the event. Logistics personnel will help obtain and distribute materials needed to respond the event, the finance department will track costs and legal will help identify and mitigate liability. 

Beyond these otherwise normal business responsibilities, certain roles need to be assigned in the event of an emergency to provide organization and structure to the process. For example, there will need to be an incident commander, an operations section leader and a safety officer. Additional roles include a logistics leader, research leader and public information officer. 

Miehl advises employers to utilize methods such as FEMA’s incident command system model to identify the roles and responsibilities for personnel during an emergency. 

It’s important remember that the incident commander role will change multiple times throughout an incident. The first employee on the scene may act as incident commander until others arrive. If an incident spans multiple shifts, the incident commander role will need to be transitioned to relieve employees.

The key to ensuring that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities is engaging employees through training and drilling. Training will instill basic knowledge in employees on how to act in their particular role or responsibility, and conducting drills will test the emergency response plan itself to gauge its effectiveness. 

4. Use External Resources

In addition to an organization’s own resources, it’s important to consider the outside emergency service organizations and agencies that will be called in to assist with event mitigation. This could include law enforcement, first responders and HazMat teams depending on the nature of the emergency. 

 “The inclusion of these organizations in planning is important to understand how they will be contacted, what resources they can provide, their limitations on what they can do to help mitigate the event and the information they will need to act once arriving on-site,” says Miehl.  

Miehl encourages organizations to engage with their local emergency planning committees (LEPC) to develop a coordinated response. LEPCs are federally mandated committees tasked with chemical hazards planning at the local level, and many consider all hazards as part of their planning process. 

 “The best way to coordinate with outside agencies is to involve the agency in the planning process,” he says. “Often, a simple phone call to an agency to start the discussion process is enough to engage agencies for help.”

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