EHS Professionals in a Low-risk Workplace

How (and Why) Emergency Response Planning Applies to Low-Risk Facilities

April 1st, 2019

Recently, Antea Group worked with the Inogen Environmental Alliance to evaluate compliance for country-specific emergency response requirements as they apply to offices, data centers, warehouses, and lower-risk/ light manufacturing facilities. We had a hypothesis that our clients were missing key regulations’ applicability to their low-risk environments. To understand how many (and which) regulations they were applying to their facilities, we analyzed 141 country, state, and local regulations and compared them to our clients' existing emergency response planning measures.

After researching regulations from around the world, we found that the data confirmed our theory. Our experience shows that low-risk environments need just as much emergency response planning and consideration as complicated manufacturing sites, though they are rarely given the same attention. Failure to protect these workers through planning, training, and/or using proper equipment (even in leased spaces) exposes companies to potential financial fines and nonmonetary impacts, like increased scrutiny by local government officials.

So, what can we learn from this exercise? Here are our top takeaways and tips:

Nail Down the Details

A comprehensive emergency plan should address procedures for employee safety, particularly in the event of last-minute emergencies. Contingency plans should be in place to deal with facility damages, equipment for personnel, procedures for evacuations, performance of emergency functions, and chain of command. No plan is ever perfect from the beginning—it will need to grow and change with the facility and should be reviewed annually.

(Bonus tip: Check your insurance policy for requirements that must be addressed in your emergency response plan, training documents, and supplies that are required onsite.)

Practice Makes Permanent

Natural disaster planning sessions help safety specialists observe the weaknesses in emergency plans and make improvements where needed. Experts around the world say safety specialists should vary the timing of the safety drills to determine the vulnerabilities. Make sure employees understand the roles, expectations, and responsibilities as defined in your plan. And as always, ensure that emergency exits are clearly marked and that other physical constructs are up to code, safe, and work with (not against) your emergency plan.

Gather Your Tools (and Prepare for Training)

Emergency kits should be prepared in advance of any emergency with supplies including water, food, toolkits, batteries, and radios. Supplies should be stored in a windowless room. To avoid fines, employers who rent office space or warehouse space should request evidence of fire suppression system maintenance and require annual drills. To drive home the message of safety and preparation in your plan, consider holding at least one EHS training that clearly explains everything employees will need to know and address any questions they might have about emergencies. If you’re looking to further improve your safety culture, try holding an EHS Awareness Day or creating a health and safety email newsletter with a focus on your updated emergency response plans. It helps boost employee satisfaction (people are happy when they feel their employer cares about their health and well-being) as well as your bottom line—when employees know what a plan entails they are much better at following it.

Clearly Communicate Your Plan

Safety specialists must be able to communicate with local and state emergency agencies, including police, fire, hospitals, and departments of emergency operations. Contact suppliers, shippers, and other business partners to ensure they understand the impact the emergency has on the company’s ongoing operations. The most important thing is to clearly and quickly communicate with all impacted stakeholders and ensure that employees stay safe.

Getting Back to Business

The main takeaway? Ensure that your corporate emergency response program includes low-risk environment applications, communicate with and hold landlords accountable, and keep your people (and business) safe. Aligning your emergency plans with business continuity plans helps establish a cornerstone that everyone in your organization can rely on—and creates a stronger safety culture for everyone.

Need extra support? Our team of low-risk EHS experts are here to help! Contact us today.

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