Web Exclusive: Workplace Emergency Prep

Posted by Anne Cosgrove

When severe weather strikes, facility management professionals need to ensure building occupants are as safe as possible; however, in a recent safety survey by Staples, respondents reported a significant lack of confidence in their business to be prepared for natural disasters. Less than half of respondents feel their workplace is prepared for situations such as extreme heat, snow and ice, cold, blizzards, earthquakes, and hurricanes. And despite 79% of businesses closing due to natural disasters, 35% of workplaces have not evaluated their emergency plans.FE-WebOnlylogo

Staples conducted this fourth annual safety survey in time for National Safety Month, June 2015.

Even though many workers had to be physically present in the office despite dangerous weather conditions, a majority of those surveyed lacked confidence that their employers were equipped to handle severe weather. These low levels of confidence could result from a lack of training and education, as one in four office workers have never experienced a safety drill in the office. Communication is another issue, with nearly 30% of office workers saying they receive last minute notifications (or none at all) about office closures.

The survey revealed discrepancies between employers’ and employees’ perception of safety processes and procedures in the workplace:

Many don’t know who to turn to for safety questions. Nearly 30% of office workers didn’t know if they had a resident safety expert to turn to with safety concerns or questions, versus only four percent of business decision makers.

Their knowledge regarding office safety plans differs. Decision makers, on average, were more aware of safety equipment and plans in the workplace, differing from office workers by 20% on average when it comes to fires, medical emergencies, and power outages.

There are varying levels of confidence in safety preparedness. Overall, decision-makers responded higher than office workers when asked if their workplace is prepared for natural disasters and associated issues, such as power outages (69% vs. 56%), hot temperatures (54% vs. 43%) and snow and ice (50% vs. 38%).

Bob Risk, national sales manager, safety for Staples
Bob Risk, national sales manager, safety for Staples

Following up on the survey, Facility Executive spoke with Bob Risk, national sales manager, safety, for Staples about shoring up emergency plans and supplies.

Q. What supplies and procedures should facility managers have in place to try to mitigate harm to people and damage to property?

A. When reassessing natural disaster preparedness plans, it’s important for facility executives to incorporate procedures for situations that could affect the organization, but more importantly to ensure the well-being of building occupants. Despite this need to plan accordingly for natural disasters, the recent survey by Staples of facility professionals revealed less than half of employees say their employers have plans or equipment in place for snow and ice storms, or catastrophic events such as hurricanes or earthquakes.

It’s essential to have the right products and procedures in place to ensure occupants are safe. Preparing a building for potential disasters should include the following.

  • Conduct a risk assessment for emergency scenarios. Facility managers should conduct a thorough hazard analysis before building a framework for their emergency preparedness program. Assessing current safety initiatives and becoming familiar with the tools and equipment required to deal with an emergency is the first step toward being prepared for an emergency.
  • Purchase products compliant with OSHA regulations. While specific business needs may vary, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines for must-have safety products. These include first aid kits and supplies, fire extinguishers, emergency preparedness kits, helmets, respiratory protection, long-term shelf life water and food, crank-powered cell phone chargers, emergency lighting, extra batteries, blankets, and exit signs.
  • Educate and engage staff. In case of emergencies, facility managers need to educate employees on the appropriate protective actions for safety. It’s virtually impossible to know exactly when an emergency, crisis, or dangerous situation will arise, so it is important that facility professionals have appropriate emergency planning in place and instruct staff members on correct protocols.

Q. Does the above list vary by type of operation and number of occupants?severe_weather_collage
A. The basic principles of preparedness for a natural disaster transcend different settings and operations, whether it’s for an office building, school, or another setting. For example, each space must employ facility management staff that understand and can communicate the appropriate preventative and evacuation procedures. Safety products should meet OSHA regulations, and every space requires such items as fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, and emergency lighting.

That said, specific procedures vary depending on the layout of the space. Occupants in educational spaces, which can range widely in age, might require additional instruction and signage to ensure proper adherence to procedures, for example.

Q. When it comes to operational continuity after a natural disaster, what products or practices have you seen benefit facility managers and their organizations the most?
A. In addition to the products and procedures mentioned previously, an essential tactic to maintaining operational continuity after a natural disaster is ensuring data and technology protection. Facility managers need to work with their IT department to ensure that they have several server locations, all of which must meet security requirements.

Also, the team must work with occupants to back up their data, using cloud storage and external hard drives, as well as providing off-site locations to store technological devices in the event of a natural disaster with adequate time to prepare.