Question:

I am very concerned about the people who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina. As an employer, what can I do to prepare for an emergency interruption of my business?

Answer:

As recent events have illustrated, employers need to prepare for a crisis in the workplace, whether it is the result of a natural disaster, fire, explosion, toxic contamination, workplace violence, or other interruption of business. In devising a plan for responding to and recovering from such a crisis, employers should take into account the effect the crisis will have on its employees, and the ways the employer can help the employees become more productive again, especially in the face of personal loss.

Employers might consider the following steps in preparing for and responding to such a crisis:

  1. Develop or update your emergency response and recovery plan. The emergency response plan should be developed based on the needs of your business, and should be comprehensive enough to deal with all types of emergencies specific to your work site. The plan should be in writing, and should include at a minimum, the following elements:

Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency.

Emergency escape procedures and emergency escape route assignments. The evacuation plan must take into account disabled employees or others who need accommodation or assistance to quickly evacuate the workplace. The employer must designate and train employees to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees.

  • Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to perform (or shut down) critical business operations before the business is evacuated.
  • Procedures to account for all employees after emergency evacuation has been completed.
  • Rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them.
  • Names or regular job titles of persons or departments to be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan.

The emergency action plan should address all potential emergencies that can be expected in the workplace. The employer should list in detail the procedures to be taken by any employees who must remain behind to care for essential business operations until their evacuation becomes necessary.

For emergency evacuation, the use of floor plans or workplace maps that clearly show the emergency escape routes and safe areas should be included in the plan. All employees should be advised of the actions they are to take in emergencies that may occur in the workplace, such as a designated meeting location after evacuation.

This plan should be reviewed with employees initially when the plan is developed, whenever the employees’ responsibilities under the plan change, and whenever the plan is changed. A copy should be kept where employees can refer to it at convenient times.

  1. Communicate with employees as soon as possible after an emergency or natural disaster. Inform them of the company’s status and plans. This will assist the employees and the employer in planning to resume business operations, and will provide employees with information they need in coping with disaster.
  2. Train managers and supervisors to help employees deal with a workplace crisis. Consider employee assistance programs or other resources to help employees.
  3. Be flexible. Assist employees in taking care of their personal affairs so they can regain their productivity.

For more information about disaster planning for small business, visit the OSHA web site at
www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/smallbusiness/sec10.html.
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