Preparation is Key to Mitigate Losses in Unexpected Workplace Tragedies

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL ( – “Everyone remembers where they were when they learned the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground,” noted Rebecca Shafer, attorney/risk consultant and president of Amaxx Risk Solutions in a r3ecent blogpost. The horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001 are seared into the memories of all who were old enough to understand them, especially those in risk management.

“Everyone in the risk management field ‘plans’… we plan for every eventuality, thinking things through. That’s what we do. We help our clients, which are large companies … plan how to provide safer workplaces, safer products and safer environments.,” Shafer said. “But we never planned for Sept 11. We never knew how it could affect an entire industry.”
September is National Preparedness Month. This month’s 18th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in American history seems a fitting time to highlight the importance and lessons of preparing for workplace catastrophes.

Preparing for Disasters
“Prepared not scared” is the theme of this year’s National Preparedness Month. Each of the 4 weeks in September is dedicated to a specific aspect of that theme. This week’s is ‘Make a Plan for Disasters.’ “Make an emergency plan today & practice it,” advised the website, a national public service campaign.
Workplace emergencies can involve a number of potential hazards, from natural to man-made. Preparing for the worst can help ensure workers are protected.

“Preparing before an emergency incident plays a vital role in ensuring that employers and workers have the necessary equipment, know where to go, and know how to keep themselves safe when an emergency occurs,” according to OSHA. “The best way to protect workers is to expect the unexpected and to carefully develop an emergency action plan to guide everyone in the workplace when immediate action is necessary.”

OSHA recommends all organizations have an emergency action plan that organizes the actions employers and workers should take during emergencies. When these plans are carefully developed and workers are fully trained, there are fewer and less severe injuries. On the other hand, no plan or one that is poorly developed and implemented creates confusion and increased injuries and/or illnesses.

Pre-planning is critical, especially since many disasters occur without warning. “Active shooter and other dangerous intruder situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly,” OSHA noted. “Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.”

Active shooter situations have become more commonplace in workplaces in recent years, but are certainly not the only unexpected tragedy. A heart attack, fire, or terrorist event can also occur and typically happen with no warning.
Emergency Action Plan

“Putting together a comprehensive emergency action plan involves conducting a hazard assessment to determine what, if any, physical or chemical hazards inside or from outside the workplaces could cause an emergency,” OSHA advises. “The plan should describe how workers will respond to different types of emergencies, taking into account specific worksite layouts, structural features, and emergency systems. If there is more than one worksite, each site should have an emergency action plan.”

Developing the emergency action plan is best accomplished using a diverse group of representatives from inside and outside the organization. One issue that should be addressed is when and whether workers should evacuate the facility or take a shelter-in-place stance.

Explosions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, hazardous/toxic material releases, radiological and biological accidents, civil disturbances and workplace violence are examples of situations that dictate evacuations. Emergency action plans should include plans for both scenarios and how ach situation may impact workers, especially since there may be just seconds in which they must evacuate the facility.

For situations such as an active shooter, the Department of Homeland Security advises the following guidance for workers to evacuate:
Have an escape route and plan in mind
Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
Leave personal belongings behind
Help others escape, if possible
Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be
Keep your hands visible
Follow the instructions of any police officers
Do not attempt to move wounded people
Call 911 when you are safe

DHS, OSHA and other government agencies have developed materials to help employers create emergency action plans. All advise that training and conducting practice drills for employers are imperative for success.

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