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Don’t Put On-site Health and Safety at Risk: Help Members Plan for Emergencies

By Heather Kerrigan | Jul 25, 2018

Keeping members safe at outdoor worksites is a unique challenge for board members. Not only can the work environment itself be dangerous, but storms and other unexpected events can increase the possibility of on-the-job injuries. Preparing members for these hazards is imperative for protecting their on-site health and safety.

Common Worksite Disasters

Disasters at outdoor worksites can be both weather-related and man-made. Weather-related disasters may include severe storms, tornadoes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires, depending on the climate and region in which your members work. More frequent, however, are man-made catastrophes like chemical spills, fires, equipment malfunctions and gas leaks.

Certainly, disasters caused by weather events can lead to non-weather-related incidents. It's not uncommon, for example, for an earthquake to trigger a chemical spill or a gas leak. Either way, knowing the wide array of both unexpected and preventable disasters that can occur, it's important to heed the Department of Homeland Security's 2017 National Preparedness Month slogan: "Disasters Don't Plan Ahead. You Can."

Promoting a culture of safety among members and helping them develop disaster plans means protecting their on-site health and safety, no matter the conditions.

Preparing for Disasters

During unexpected emergencies, chaos and panic can take hold. If members aren't ready to respond when the worst happens, they run the risk of becoming unable to evacuate, upping their potential for serious injury. When they're disoriented, they're also more likely to be injured in secondary accidents, for instance slipping after a spill.

The first step toward avoiding both primary and secondary injuries is to brainstorm relevant potential worksite disasters and then create a written plan, distributed among members, that details advice on how to respond. These plans must take into account both the worksite and the jobs being done there, as well as the local climate and its likelihood to produce various types of natural disasters.

Work with your members' employers to ensure that plans are as detailed as possible and include:

  • How workers will be notified of a disaster
  • The chain of command
  • Evacuation routes
  • Postevacuation plans, including how members will be accounted for
  • Cleanup plans
  • Where safety equipment can be found, including first-aid kits, hard hats, goggles and gloves

Impress upon employers that training around disaster preparedness should be provided to all new employees, any time the plan is updated or whenever the worksite changes. Simply talking to workers or handing out documents isn't enough. It's crucial to actually walk through the plan's steps and practice responding to the most likely scenarios.

There are a number of resources available for creating and evaluating emergency-preparedness plans. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration hosts resources for planning for worksite emergencies and evacuations, while the American Red Cross offers a free 123-point assessment to help identify areas of improvement.

Increasing Communication Between Members and Trustees

Work to keep the lines of communication open between you and your members, especially around questions of disaster preparedness and workplace safety. Members should feel comfortable coming forward to report any dangerous, hazardous or otherwise questionable situations that could lead to a worker injury. So in your efforts to prepare members to respond to a disaster, be sure to advise them on how to notify you of such concerns. Provide a dedicated point of contact for ease of communication.

Whenever you receive information about a potential worksite hazard, take it seriously and address it as soon as possible. This may require asking for additional information. You or an expert may also need to visit the worksite to assess the potential hazard.

Based on the information collected, communicate with the employer or worksite supervisor to develop a plan to mitigate the risk. This plan should include a time frame for implementation. Be prepared to follow up with someone on-site to ensure that the hazard has been adequately remedied.

Knowing their on-site health and safety is taken care of will allow your members to do their best work — and they'll know who to thank for their peace of mind.

Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.

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