Essential Steps in Preparing for Emergencies at the Workplace
Employers have the responsibility to be prepared for emergencies and must thus set up emergency management systems to ensure preparedness and adequate responses to emergency incidents.
The organisation must develop, implement, and maintain an emergency management system that includes proper identification of potential emergencies and how to respond to such emergencies in order to lessen any negative consequences of the situation. The organisation must also consider the needs of surrounding communities. Periodical testing of the written procedures in responding to emergency situations must be carried out as part of the overall emergency management system. Regular reviewing, changing and updating of their preparedness to deal with emergency situations are essential.
Essential questions to ask include what can be done to ensure proper procedures and resources are in place for emergency situations, what equipment is available, what processes will be followed, whether there are emergency response teams etc. The emergency management system should include the pre-incident planning process, how the company will respond to particular incidents, and what actions must be taken after the occurrence of an incident. Pre-incident planning is essential and must involve all parties who will need to respond to a particular emergency situation. This includes operators, environmental consultants and officers, managers, and engineers, in addition to external emergency services. Every person in the chain has a role and is accountable for it. The entire group must work together to determine what is likely to happen, what can occur even though not likely, what the extent of such an incident could be, what the results could be, and which scenarios can play out.
It is important to have a communication plan and to ensure that all employees are made aware of the procedures to follow in response to a particular emergency. The company’s operations must be reviewed to determine the probability of certain emergency incidents. As part of this process, it is necessary to rate emergency incidents according to probability and severity of the results.
The next important step is to determine what regulations must be in place in planning and responding to the emergency situations; these are necessary to ensure compliance with legal requirements. Document such regulations and assess what the local response lead time is. The most probable and most severe risks must be prioritised, and responses developed, tested, recorded, and practised. Relevant response teams must be chosen and trained. The employer needs to plan for drills and must ensure that they are performed regularly enough to guarantee proper preparedness for emergency situations.
It is also essential to develop plans and to implement such plans for recovery after an emergency incident and how to restart the necessary work operations. Ongoing evaluation of the plan is essential as ongoing improvements must be made to ensure preparedness for emergency situations. As part of the development of the emergency management system, the employer must review incident reports to determine the likelihood of repeat situations and which types of emergencies are probable. The emergencies most likely to occur and the effect on safety, health and the environment must be assessed. It is possible to combine the responses with procedures already in place for other emergency incidents.
Emergencies can range from explosions to fires, chemical spills, sinkholes, hazardous gas being released, criminal activities, civil unrest, natural disasters such as earthquakes and rock falls, disease outbreaks, sabotage, or breakdown of critical machinery that can lead to disasters. The system must make provision for emergencies likely to occur during normal work hours and that which can occur after hours.
The planning process must be under constant review as changes in the workplace affect the response, evacuation procedures, recovery, and ability to restart normal operations. The underlying philosophy of an emergency management system is to ensure preparedness to deal with emergencies. As such, it must also focus on prevention of injury, impact on the environment, and minimisation of effects on every person involved or exposed to the emergency.
It is essential to have clear and easy-to-understand procedures that can be carried out without confusion. The procedures must be well documented and easily accessible. Storing them electronically is risky because power outages can render them useless. Written and printed procedures must be available, and copies made available at easily accessible places. Get professional help in setting up an emergency management system in South Africa. Call us for advice, training assistance, preparation for compliance with regulatory requirements, and internal and external auditing of the system.