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Emergency Response

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Stephen McCay

Emergencies can strike the workplace unexpectedly. Accidents like chemical spills or fires, acts of violence and natural disasters are all within the realm of possibility, even if they do happen very infrequently. Emergencies can cause businesses to suffer significant losses and even permanently close their doors if enough damage is done.

Preparing for emergencies by creating a detailed emergency plan involving protocols, evacuation routes, chains of command and methods of communication is the key to preventing damage to your operations during and after an emergency. One thing that some businesses overlook, though, is a fully stocked emergency kit.

This kit should include basic supplies for people like food, water and first aid tools because it’s possible an emergency like a storm or earthquake could strand people in the workplace. You should also think about making an emergency kit for business continuity that includes important documents and information. Today we’ll take a look at what these kits should contain.

Emergency Kit Contents

Just as individuals might have emergency kits at home, businesses need basic emergency kits, too. A basic emergency kit should include items such as:

  • Non-perishable food
  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • First aid supplies
  • Lighting (lanterns, flashlights, crank lights)
  • Blankets/Sleeping bags
  • Moist towelettes for personal sanitation
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Extra batteries

Additional items commonly included in emergency kits are:

  • A wrench or pliers for turning off utilities
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal a room in the case of a hazardous atmosphere
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • First aid reference books (or an app such as Pocket First Aid & CPR from the American Heart Association)
  • NOAA Weather Radio
  • Dust masks
  • Can opener
  • Local maps

It’s also worth encouraging workers to create their own emergency kits that include things like medications, spare glasses and other personal care items they would need. A change of clothes that includes long pants and a long-sleeved shirt is also a good idea.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says to always “think about the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth.”

Workplaces can prepare emergency kit materials themselves or purchase pre-made kits. Options are available for small workplaces with a few employees all the way to large employers with hundreds of employees.

Emergency Supplies

Business Continuity Items

In addition to emergency supplies to help people survive an emergency situation, a business needs to be prepared with materials to ensure operations are impacted as little as possible. FEMA recommends keeping the following in a waterproof, fireproof, portable container:

  • Insurance policies
  • Employee contact and identification information
  • Bank account records
  • Computer backups
  • Supplier and shipping contact lists
  • Customer lists
  • Site maps
  • Building plans
  • Law enforcement contact information

Having these documents in more than one location (both on-site and off-site) will help prevent this critical information from being lost.

Maintain Your Emergency Kit

Perhaps this goes without saying, but you shouldn’t forget to update your emergency kit. Food can expire, batteries can die and even the plastic bottles that hold water can begin to break down. It’s advisable to check your supplies once every six months to make sure they are still functional.

Do the same thing for your business documents. Outdated contact information for employees, insurance agents, customers and other business contacts will not be very useful to you. If electrical and communication utilities go out, you may not be able to look up this information using a phone or computer, and this can cause detrimental delays. Businesses that get back up and running quickly will be less likely to face serious financial difficulties.

Other Emergency Planning Tips

Emergency planning involves all departments and aspects of your organization, so pay attention to details and make sure everyone knows what to do. Conducting regular emergency drills for events like fires, tornados and earthquakes is essential because if people have already gone through the steps they would need to take during an emergency, they will be more comfortable during an actual emergency event. After your drills, evaluate how they went and look for areas for improvement.

Checklist

Evaluation checklists can help you evaluate your emergency drills.

In the case an emergency requires evacuating the facility, make sure you know who will make the decision to evacuate and how it will be communicated to workers. Employees should also know where to assemble during an evacuation, and posting signs along exit routes and at an assembly area outside the building is critical.

As part of your plans, make sure you also establish communication methods that will be used to contact relevant people. This could involve using social media or special phone numbers. You could also encourage workers to use Facebook’s Safety Check feature to let others know they are okay.

Finally, consider preparing for an emergency by having employees participate in emergency response training such as CPR, AED or general first aid training. Emergency responders may not be able to quickly reach injured people during a natural disaster, so having individuals on site who can provide immediate treatment could save lives.

For more information about emergency planning, read Practical Tips for Emergency Planning. To learn more about emergency kits, listen to our interview with Melinda Davis of the American Red Cross.