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Emergency Preparedness and Response

Focus: Health and Safety – Prevention of Injury and Ill Health

The organization is responsible for ensuring that it is prepared for and can respond to emergency situations and accidents and prevent or mitigate associated adverse occupational health and safety consequences.

The environmental movement and labor leaders have contributed to changes in occupational health and safety. Major tragedies in the mining industry brought about groups such as OSHA in the United States.

Not only is labor a powerful force to build products, but also it kept the wheels of war going. An expression used back in the 1930s-40s was “save a day” which meant work to save workers so that they could keep the planes flying for the “freedom” of tomorrow. Do we have the freedom if we have unsafe work?

Does your company put corporate financing ahead of safety? Has your corporate office required operating costs to be reduced by a certain percentage? Disasters don't just happen; they are a chain of critical events caused by design flaws, human error, or terrorism.

British Petroleum

The refineries owned by British Petroleum (BP) have had disasters causing loss of lives in Texas, even though there are strict guidelines in the oil industry. When this type of emergency happens, investigators are brought in to review what has happened.

Due to global terrorism, FBI agents were the first to investigate, as the oil industry would be a main target for terrorists. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was then called in once terrorism was ruled out to investigate this disaster, bringing in Don Holmstrom, who is known in the media as the safety evangelist.

After lengthy investigation, reviews of photographs, videos, data from the hard drives, electronic records from the control room, and interviews with employees, it was found that the causes of this disaster were related to a number of areas:

1. Slack operating practices. If your company is operating more than one shift, then consideration has to be given to proper hand-over to the next shift related to operations, as well as any monitoring that has taken place and its results and the impact it will have on the next shift. Communication is essential. Many companies have work instructions in place and they are not being followed; the workers are going by common practices, and when an investigation or audit finds these occurrences, it is management's responsibility to investigate the issues at hand and manage the corrective actions.

2. Poorly maintained equipment. It is advisable for managers to review their work order system to review areas of concern, whether these areas are being dealt with, and why. Is the equipment part of a high-risk area? If a company is aware of new designs that would eliminate risk in its operations but they do not put them into practice, can they be held accountable? Is management by finance or by safety?

3. Inadequate supervision. A supervisor left a post at a critical moment and the back-up person had never handled start-up before. Are your backup people trained to take over areas if your supervisors are not available for any reason?

In this Texas oil disaster, many people were killed in a trailer that was located close to the blow-down area. When the risks tied to the location of the trailer were reviewed, the severity of the risk was tied to the length of time individuals would be in that trailer, which was close to the hazardous area. It is important to review the logic of your organization's assessment of risks.

Emergency preparedness is the act of being prepared for an unexpected disaster, to minimize injuries and property damage. Organizations are required to identify the potential for emergency situations, looking at worst-case scenarios and how they will respond to such situations.

This may be a natural disaster tied to a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flooding, or a deadly influenza outbreak, workplace violence, chemical spill, gas leak, or transportation accident. As outlined in OHSAS 18001, the organization shall respond to actual emergency situations by preventing or mitigating adverse occupational health and safety consequences. Your emergency procedures must comply with applicable legal requirements, including fire codes and emergency response acts.

When implementing your emergency preparedness plans, know who your neighbors are. They may have more of an impact on you then you do on them. If you have railways that go past your industry, do you have contact information for reaching them in an event of an emergency?

Many organizations hire security guards from outside contractors; however, they do not train these people, who change all the time, in the proper procedures for emergencies. The security guards in many cases are the first to call the fire department and ambulances. They need an understanding of the plant's layout and the dangerous chemicals stored at the facility and up-to-date emergency contact names and telephone numbers.

The organization needs to test its plans for emergencies periodically, from fire drills to spill response and first aid. A review of the emergency plans needs to be done on a regular basis, especially when there are process changes, new construction, or changes that take place at an organization or after an emergency has taken place, so that plans can be revised and tested with a follow-up of communication and training.

Contractors and visitors need to know how to respond when there is an emergency within your organization. What training and communications do you have in place? In your emergency plan have a written process of evacuating your workplace, as well as the roles and responsibilities and internal and external lines of communication. Make sure that emergency equipment is available for use and is maintained in good working order.

As part of your emergency preparedness planning you will also need to plan on bringing business back to normal, with recovery of documentation and communications. What would your plan of action be?

In many emergency plans, sometimes we overlook the obvious – for instance, when preparing for emergencies at a zoo, we look at the people but may forget the emergency plan for removing the animals when a fire or flood takes place. Having an outside set of eyes on your management system helps to review what some would consider to be the norm.

It is important to review and, where necessary, revise your emergency preparedness plan, in particular after testing or after the occurrence of emergency situations.


Focus: Health and Safety – Prevention of Injury and Ill Health

1 Has your organization maintained its emergency prevention, preparedness, and response program?

a. Have you had any recent emergencies? What were they?

b. Define what was done to plan for similar emergency situations.

c. Was contact made with applicable government bodies?

d. What impact has this emergency had on your organization?

e. What changes happened due to this emergency (procedures, training, communications, process changes, design changes)?

2 The last time you visited your branch office, were you provided with any information about emergency response at the site?

3 Who is the lead emergency coordinator? Who is the company's spokesperson with the media, government? Do you have an emergency chain of command? Do you have backup personnel in the chain of command? Can you rely on these people during a crisis? Does your emergency team include the personnel responsible for the identification of hazards (risks) at your facility?

4 Does your facility maintain a good relationship with local fire departments and local government services? In the event of an emergency, it is essential to have a good relationship with them.

5 What backup plans does the company have in place? Loss of a key individual can also be a loss of data and information.

6 What information does your company need in order to continue after the emergency is over? In some cases a facility may not be directly impacted; however, the emergency may prevent your workers from accessing the facility for weeks or even months. What would your backup system be for an off-site location?

7 What is the emergency number you would call on a mobile phone? Can you send text messages to these numbers? How? 112, 999, 911?

8 What are the evacuation time limits for your site(s)?

9 What sites does the company own that are in tornado zones? How are you prepared for such emergencies?

10 Does the facility(s) have a listing of inventory of hazardous materials? Where they are located?

11 Do you have security guards at your facility? Do they have current contacts for emergencies, up to date floor plans, current emergency preparedness plans?

12 Have you had an emergency drill at your location that included visitors, contractors? How was your drill? What do you measure for effectiveness of emergency preparedness?

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