It is every employers responsibility to provide a safe workplace – it is called “due diligence”. Having a plan in place to deal with emergencies is an important part of any workplace health and safety program. An Emergency Response Plan (ERP) specifies procedures for handling potential emergency situations.
Although emergencies by definition are often sudden and unexpected, the lilkihood of their occurrence can be somewhat predictable. A workplace ERP should be developed based on working through a process to identify known hazards, potential risks, the likelihood of a particular event occurring, and the severity of the consequences should the “unthinkable” happen. The reality is that no workplace is immune, an emergency can happen anywhere.
Geographic location tends to determine the type and severity of natural disasters that may occur whereas physical and mechanical hazards and risks vary from one organization or industry to the next based on the nature of materials that are handled and work that is performed. Emergency situations have the potential to kill or cause injury to workers, impact the general public in the vicinity of the organization or business, harm the environment, and cause damage to buildings, equipment and stores. Examples of hazards that may be present in or could potentially occur at or near your workplace include:
- Chemical/Environmental Hazards: HAZMAT spills, compressed gas leaks, fire, explosion, accidental release of toxic substances, deliberate release of hazardous biological agents, or toxic chemicals, transportation accidents,
- Security Hazards: bomb threat, terrorist activities, lockdown, armed intruder, criminal behaviour, workplace violence,
- Mechanical Hazards: building collapse, major structural failure, elevator malfunctions, loss of electrical power, loss of water supply, loss of communications, and
- Natural Hazards: floods, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, other severe wind storms, snow or ice storms, severe extremes in temperature (cold or hot).
The possibility of one event triggering others must be considered e.g. an explosion may start a fire or cause structural failure.
After the initial hazard identification and risk assessment step is completed you are ready to begin working out the details of your plan. The following items should be considered when preparing your emergency response plan:
- The scope of the plan – which emergencies will you develop formal response procedures for based on identified hazards and risk assessment results?
- Assign and define specific emergency response duties, responsibilities and points of contact at appropriate levels within your chain of command. Include contact information for key positions and ensure your communication strategy is clear and that information is kept up to date.
- Identify and list contact information for external organizations that may be available to assist (fire departments, police, ambulance, hospitals, utility companies, government agencies).
- Determine resource and equipment needs such as personal protective equipment (PPE), and other emergency equipment (AEDs, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, spill containment supplies). Note that ensuring adequate resources may also include the need for external services in response to some types of emergencies.
- Specialized training of both individuals and teams may be required, if they are expected to perform adequately in an emergency. Determine the level and frequency of emergency response employee training that is needed.
- For most types of emergencies you will need a plan for alerting and evacuating staff. Maps showing evacuation routes and assembly points are useful.
- Ensure the ERP is communicated to workers, contractors working on-site, visitors and local authorities.
- Emergency response exercises and drills should be practiced periodically. At a mimimum these exercises should test critical portions of the ERP such as evacuations. Conduct a review after each exercise, drill, and after actual emergencies to determine if there are any areas of the ERP that require improvement. The plan should be reviewed at least annually and updated whenever weaknesses are identified.
A well planned and well maintained ERP is one of the best tools you can develop to ensure the safety of personnel and to minimize property damage and environmental impacts in the event of an actual emergency. Don’t wait until you need one to start thinking about you will respond.
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