By Riley Quinn Doherty
There is a lot that can occur inside and outside of the workplace that can affect employee safety. Dangerous weather conditions, fires, medical emergencies, power outages, and even violence can potentially harm employees if the proper precautions are not taken to help mitigate risks. While many of these threats are difficult to control, all of them can be tempered in part through effective communications practices by facilities and office managers.
A recent report by Rave Mobile Security found that there is a big gap in awareness of emergency plans. 30% of respondents indicated they were not aware of any workplace emergency plans spanning weather events, fires, or medical emergencies. Excluding fire, the majority of emergency plans were rarely or never tested.
Additionally, Rave found that the favored communications platform by employees is not used by the majority of workplaces. Emergency alerts distributed through text message is the preferred method while working remotely and the second choice while in the office, but it only makes up 17% of emergency communication methods.
It is critical for the overall health of a business to have strong safety practices in place. However, that alone isn’t enough if you haven’t ensured that employees heard and understood them. We have outlined below a few key rules that facilities and offices mangers should follow when it comes to communication for a safer workplace.
Train Well…Train Often
One safety training for each environmental threat is not enough as employees may be absent, not paying attention, or join the company at a later date. Training sessions and talks should commence when employees first join a company, and at regular intervals over the year.
For fire safety practices, for example, facilities managers should organize once-a-quarter check ins with all employees to refresh their understanding of where the nearest stairwells are, where employees should congregate after exiting the building and who will be the designated leader in that situation to take a head count.
Some companies time training refreshers ahead of challenging weather seasons, such as when winter weather is drawing closer. Of course, when regulations or guidelines change, managers should promptly arrange for related training. Facilities managers should also make sure that they have an emergency response plan prepared which has been shared with all office managers and/or their employees. This plan should include:
- Evacuation routes, shelter-in-place instructions and locations, and lockdown procedures
- Locations of emergency exits, fire alarm pull stations, fire extinguishers, etc.
- Step-by-step procedures for safe evacuation
- Up-to-date floor plans
- A roster of occupants inside the building, including notes about who may need help evacuating
- Scripts for mass-notification announcements
Additionally, employees and employers need to be on the same page when it comes to safety training and procedures, so they can collectively respond to situations in the safest way possible. Staples’ own Safety Study (2015) found that nearly 30% of office workers surveyed said they never received safety training, compared to only 5% of decision makers who said the same.
A helpful resource for facilities and office managers is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, which offers online training, tools, guidelines and other resources. The easier it is to organize and plan trainings, the more frequently they are to happen.
Different means of communication, such as social media, automated phone calls, email and the company intranet are all effective ways to communicate emergency plans and provide safety tips throughout the year. However, making sure that there is a clear, consistent way managers are sharing information and directions is equally as important.
When there is a threat, employees want to feel that their employers are taking their safety seriously and that there is a streamlined process in place. For example, if a blizzard occurs and the process is to post office closure updates on the intranet, employers should stick to that medium for communication and only that. They should not post on the intranet for one storm and then send out company-wide emails for others storms, as employees will be confused and critical information can be missed. The worst decision, however, is to update some employees directly and not others, as this will lead employees to believe that their safety is not as important.
If employees aren’t aware of a safety program, then the program isn’t effective. To communicate a safety program, employers need to be transparent, consistent and recurrent, which are as important as the safety program itself.
Doherty is area vice president at Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, Inc.