Four Ways to Prepare for an Incident
As safety professionals, our focus needs to be on prevention: proactivity keeps workers from being hurt in the first place. In recent years, with incentive programs under fire, there has been a push for companies to focus on leading indicators (such as safety meetings attended, near misses reported, training courses completed, etc.) to give us an evaluation of our programs rather than the traditional lagging indicators (recordable rates, lost time incident rates, etc.). Despite all of this, as they say, accidents do happen (as evidenced by the more than 4000 workplace fatalities that still occur in the United States annually). So, what should we, as safety professionals, do to prepare for an accident / incident?
Have a Plan
What does your Emergency Action Plan (EAP) say you should do? What’s that you say? You don’t have one? Well, time to get writing. Each company should have an EAP that addresses the types of situations most likely to occur. Do you work in Southern California? What is your plan to deal with earthquakes? Is your office in a flood plain? How are you evacuating your personnel if necessary? Where do your people go in the event of a fire or bomb threat? And what about events smaller in nature? Does 9-1-1 work where you are or does a different number need to be called? Are other important numbers, like poison control, posted where people can quickly find them?
There are countless questions to be answered to properly develop an EAP, and one person working on it may not be enough. Assign a committee to analyze the work you perform and your location (with respect to its history of natural disasters) so that nothing is missed. However, remember that your health and safety program should be a living document. If you write and release your EAP today, but tomorrow realize that you forgot your facility is down-wind of a chemical manufacturer with large stores of ammonia gas, then figure out how you’ll handle it if the plant had a catastrophe and add it to the plan.
Finally, train. What good is a document on a shelf if nobody knows what it says? Your workforce needs to know what they are expected to do in case of an emergency. Keep in mind that in a best case scenario, your personnel will rarely, if ever, have to follow these procedures in a real-world situation. That means that they will get rusty and they will forget what to do unless you periodically refresh their memories. The most effective way to do this is to run drills which takes the plan from an abstraction on a whiteboard in a classroom to a real-life possible scenario. Also, consider first aid, CPR, and AED training for your personnel so that somebody may be able to begin care while waiting for professional help to arrive.
Have the Supplies You Need
Somebody gets hurt at your facility, what do you do? Some of you would answer that you’d begin First Aid/CPR if necessary, which is good, but what if the equipment wasn’t available? Suppose you suspected somebody was going into cardiac arrest but the AED battery was dead (assuming you had an AED). Suppose a worker was bleeding badly, but no bandages could be found. Being prepared is the Boy Scouts’ motto for a reason – because it’s good advice. Be prepared with whatever you may need – based on your assessments and EAP – to care for a victim (or multiple victims) and make sure those supplies are periodically inspected or inventoried. Things tend to disappear quickly from first aid kits. Defibrillators get left open and batteries die. Some supplies expire. Somebody must manage your supply inventory, because you don’t want to find out you don’t have what you need when it’s already too late.
Invite Emergency Services
If you’re in an office building, getting an ambulance or fire truck to your site is probably relatively simple, but if you work in a manufacturing facility, at a construction site, or on some type of large campus, valuable minutes could be wasted trying to get emergency personnel from your front entrance to where the injured or ill person is located. Unfortunately, many companies don’t consider this until too late. Don’t be those companies. Instead, invite a member of the fire department out to your site. Do the same for your local first aid squad and police force. Make sure they get a good tour of the facility and have an idea of what could go wrong. Distribute maps – accurate, up to date maps – to help them get where they need to go. They may be able to find your street address, but will they know which one is “Building 6G North”?
This is even more important if you perform confined space entry work. Determine if the fire department does rescue work and, if so, what procedures you need to follow in order to ensure they have you covered. Show them your confined spaces so they can ensure they have the right equipment to perform a rescue should the need arise.
Develop a Relationship
Once the incident occurs, case management is key. You should already have a relationship with your worker’s compensation carrier. Nurture this. Don’t expect them to do everything. They do not know your personnel like you do. Stay on top of cases to ensure they are brought to quick resolution. Make sure your carrier understands your return to work policies. But before you even get to insurance, you need to have a relationship established with your occupational clinic. Do you want drug testing done for everybody that walks through the door? Do you have restricted duty available? These and other issues should be addressed with your clinic before an employee ever ends up in their waiting room. If you don’t have an occupational clinic, find one. You shouldn’t be relying on hospital emergency rooms for every little work injury. It is not efficient or cost-effective to do so.
An ounce of prevention, they say, is worth a pound of cure. As true as that is, that doesn’t mean we don’t worry about the cure. If we did, we’d teach cleanliness, diet, and exercise but wouldn’t have antibiotics. We’d preach safety, but wouldn’t have surgery. We’d teach you to not drink the poison, but wouldn’t waste time developing an antidote. Fortunately, we have the foresight to know that even the best means of prevention aren’t foolproof. So, prevent, prevent, prevent, but be ready with a plan….just in case.