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Responding to an emergency situation

Cheryl DeCooman for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 December 2021

We all know taking steps to protect the health and safety of everyone in your workplace is so important. Unfortunately, even when we have a great health and safety program in place, there is still the possibility that various types of emergencies can occur at work.

Because of this, it is important to create an emergency response plan so employees know what to do in an emergency. Emergency situations can vary greatly, and people may panic or react in different ways.

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Types of emergencies may include:

  • Medical emergencies such as heart attack or stroke
  • Workplace injuries or illnesses such as someone falling or being hit
  • Critical injuries or fatalities
  • Fires, explosions or electrical emergencies
  • Exposure to natural gas or carbon monoxide
  • Workplace violence or other physical threats
  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes, severe storms or major electrical power failures

As you can imagine, any of these situations can be very stressful, and employees may react very differently in these situations. This is why you do not want to rely on individual decision-making in the event of an emergency; by creating a written emergency response plan, you can be sure everyone is prepared.

How do I prepare for an emergency?

Create an emergency response plan. It is critical that employees receive training on the proper protocols before an emergency occurs. This ensures that, in a potentially life-threatening situation, they are prepared on how to respond. An emergency response plan should include the name and phone number of the emergency response coordinator and an alternate person in the event the coordinator is not on the premises. Safe meeting locations should be designated both outside and inside a building. Finally, an emergency response plan should include a map of all buildings including location of emergency exits, fire extinguisher, first-aid kits, eyewash, and chemical and fuel storage areas.

Most importantly, after your emergency response plan has been created, it needs to be communicated to employees and you should conduct drills to ensure every employee gets the opportunity to practice how to respond in an emergency. Holding emergency response drills also gives you the opportunity to see where some of the plan may need to be adjusted. The emergency response plan should also be hung on your health and safety board, as well as part of the documents you give new hires to review.

What should be done in the event of an emergency?

If an emergency occurs, and help is needed, someone should call 911 immediately. Evaluate the most urgent next step and execute it. The most urgent next step could be several things, and different options should be explored while creating your emergency response plan. The first step in emergency response is ensuring the safety of yourself and others. Do this by communicating to others on-site, including all workers and visitors. Assist injured persons if you can and either contact a first-aid provider or provide first aid if you are able to do so. Take steps to prevent further injury or damage only if it will not endanger yourself or others.

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In the event of an incident involving equipment or chemicals, if it is safe to do so, turn off powered equipment and attempt to contain the hazard (i.e., stop the flow of liquids and/or gasses, reduce the spread of a fire, etc.). Evacuate the workplace by exiting calmly through the nearest exit and go to the meeting point. Once evacuated, the emergency response coordinator must take a head count to ensure all employees, visitors and others are at the designated meeting location. After this, there can be an evaluation and it can be determined if there needs to be a control for the risk of a secondary incident such as fire spreading, explosion, chemical exposure or injury. Finally, ensure you follow instructions from emergency responders, the emergency response coordinator and/or manager.

What information should be provided to 911?

The location of the emergency including address and area of the building needs to be provided to emergency services. The operation location should be posted on the health and safety board for all employees to see. The person contacting 911 should also provide the number of people on-site and communicate to emergency responders on-site when everyone is accounted for. In addition, the person calling 911 should give specific details about the nature of the emergency and any injuries as well as the location and type of hazardous or flammable materials (such as fuels, chemicals, compressed gasses, etc.).

What is the designated safe meeting location?

As part of your emergency response plan, you are required to choose two designated safe meeting locations. One location would be used as a gathering area in the event of an emergency evacuation and must be in a safe area away from the building. The other location would be a safe meeting place inside the building. You should also establish back-up safe meeting locations if the original location is not accessible.

What should you do if an emergency occurs while working outside of the workplace?

If an emergency occurs while working off-site, you must follow the instructions provided by the most senior person in charge of the location. If first aid is required, this should be provided if possible, and 911 must be called if needed. As soon as it is safe to do so, the employee must notify their supervisor of the incident.

If employees are consistently working at an off-site location or there is reoccurring work being done at various other locations, you should discuss and document the steps that should be followed in the event of an emergency.

What do we do after an emergency?

Once the immediate emergency is stabilized, assess the people and conditions at the scene. The emergency response coordinator and managers should identify potential witnesses and document as much information as possible. Physical evidence should be preserved, so secure the scene and control access to the area. Ensure appropriate parties have been notified, including management and regulatory bodies if required.

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Determine if an investigation or other resources are needed; the emergency responders can help to determine this as well. Work with emergency responders to inspect the workplace and give approval to re-enter the building. Finally, after an emergency situation, you should always evaluate the effectiveness of the emergency response and develop a plan for improvement.  end mark

Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or on Twitter and Instagram.

Cheryl DeCooman

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