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Emergency Preparedness - A reliable 5 step process

Emergencies can arise in any workplace, and they range from fire to medical emergencies. Being prepared for an emergency requires more than just having an “emergency procedure” lying around somewhere.

It requires systematic planning and training along the lines described below.

 

I suggest the following 5-step process:

  1. Identify potential emergency situations
  2. Plan a response to each situation
  3. Assign appropriate roles and train to create a response team
  4. Plan internal and external communication
  5. Periodically test response plans and improve them.

 

Identification

Your safety hazards register and environmental aspects register should lead you to identify many of your potential emergency situations. These might include, for example: fire, chemical spills/leaks, storm, flood, toxic or flammables release, loss of power/gas or loss of cooling/heating. Also review incident and near-miss reports for more clues. Make a record of the emergency situations or incorporate this information into a suitable register.

Planning

You can’t deploy safeguards for every conceivable situation. So firstly, estimate the foreseeable consequences and corresponding likelihood for each emergency situation to assess risk. Then develop response options and estimate cost for the bigger risks. Finally, prioritise these response options considering risk vs cost. Again, document this work, especially the reasoning for your prioritisation (as evidence of due diligence).

Response planning needs to be realistic. For example, planning to deploy absorption socks from a spill kit when a 200 L drum of acid is ruptured 10 metres from a drain is probably going to be ineffective. Consult staff who are familiar with operations when developing emergency response options. Then test these options if possible.

There is often a high financial cost associated with emergencies. Plan ahead by trying to organise the workplace to reduce, not only personal injury, but also the financial cost of an emergency. For example, store some data back-ups offsite; decentralise storage of combustibles to reduce loss in a fire; take measures to minimise spoilage of stock or damage to equipment from fire sprinklers.

Assigning roles

Define emergency roles, train staff in those roles, and make sure you have sufficient trained staff during operating hours every single day. Make sure absences are covered and staff turnover affecting the response team is addressed promptly.

Communication

All staff onsite need to know what to do in an emergency. External emergency personnel also may need to have some knowledge of your site and the likely hazards they may encounter. Clear lines of communication will be needed during the emergency.

Drills and testing

Emergency drills are essential. Many problems with emergency procedures will only be discovered during drills. And drills may have to be repeated several times to ensure the procedures work effectively. Over time, these drills should be used to test all aspects of the emergency plan, not just fire evacuation. (And I recommend advising site personnel before running a drill to avoid unnecessary stress or trauma.)

Finally, after every emergency, near-emergency or drill, conduct a post-mortem to learn and to improve.