Disaster Response Plans

Even the name of this policy invokes mental images of chaos.  Stormy weather, chemical spills, fires, or worse.

Do your employees know what to do in the event of a disaster?

Most businesses with less than 50 workers are not required to have a formal disaster response plan, unless there is something inherent in the nature of the business, such as an increased potential for fire or chemical spill.

The people who work for you need to have a plan for not only themselves, but also for any clients or customers who may be at your business when disaster strikes.

Don’t panic! These plans are relatively easy to create for most workplaces, as your biggest threat would be from natural disaster (storm, earthquake).

While your Plan cannot cover every conceivable situation, it should supply the basic guidelines necessary to cope with most emergencies. Being physically and psychologically prepared to handle emergencies is everyone’s responsibility.

The increasing likelihood of natural disaster and the potential for workplace disaster to cause extreme amounts of harm highlights the need to have formal plans in place to respond to workplace emergencies and makes the formal disaster plan a “must-have” document.

**Under the AODA, as of January 1, 2012 Employers are Required to provide Individualized Emergency Response information to those employees who have disabilities. (More info on this in a moment…)

It is a good idea to have a disaster plan in place for each of the following situations, which may or may not apply to your business.  Some can be combined for efficiency and ease of communication.

  • Fire
  • Extreme Weather and External disaster
  • Chemical spill
  • Medical Emergencies
  • Violent Acts or Persons (i.e. your Bill 168 program)

As of January 1, 2012, if you know that an employee with a disability might need help in an emergency:

  • Give them individualized emergency response information
  • Get their consent, then share this information with anyone designated to help them in an emergency
  • Review the emergency response information when:

–      the employee changes work locations

–      you review the employee’s overall accommodation needs

–      you review your organization’s emergency response policies.

Disabilities can be temporary or permanent, and “employee” includes paid staff, but not volunteers or unpaid staff.

A disaster plan should provide:

–      Steps to eliminate or minimize adverse effects from emergency situations which may affect the production of work

–      Procedures for proper response to emergencies

–      Instructions for personnel to ensure that they understand their responsibilities during emergency situations

Some things to consider when creating your plan:

  • Evacuation Plan:

–      Precautionary (move to another location within building) or Safe rooms-is there a portion of your building that could withstand most destructive forces and allow people to shelter in place?

–      Urgent (exit building immediately for safety reasons) and Exit strategies-how to escape the building to a safer location as quickly as possible

  • Organizational Response Plans:

–      Who from your company will respond if it is after hours?

–      Who speaks to the media?

–      Who takes charge of the scene?

Make sure all emergency contact numbers are available no matter what the situation-chemical spill response, fire, medical, etc.-by putting signs on walls, pre-programming speed dial numbers on phones and having the numbers available in manuals and other handy places.

Back-up systems-have cell phones and walkie-talkies available so that staff can stay in contact with each other/emergency services during power outages

Preventive measures:

  • Make sure your fire extinguishers are kept charged, chemical spill and first aid kits are properly stocked
  • Ensure that any other safety devices and protocols are enforced and in place
  • Investigate “best practice” efforts of similar businesses for new ideas on how to manage emergency situations.

Review your emergency information

  • Ask yourself, how do staff learn about an emergency and what are they expected to do?
  • Find out what kind of information employees need and if they need it in an accessible format.

Determine who needs help

  • Employees may not think about the information they need to deal with an emergency; but you should.
  • What might help them to stay safe? If you don’t know if your employees need customized information, ask them by making the offer to everyone.

Prepare and provide emergency information

  • You can make a document accessible by recreating it in a different format; for example, printing it in large print for someone with vision loss. But you can also help someone to use the original document or resource; for example, by reading it aloud.
  • Some employees may need more than an accessible format. For example, if someone can’t hear a fire alarm, making the fire evacuation plan accessible won’t help, but creating a customized evacuation plan will.
  • If they need another person’s help in an emergency, get the employee’s consent, then share the emergency information with the people who will help them. Don’t share details of the employee’s disability, just what kind of help they need.

Follow up

  • Revisit the information if the employee moves, or if you review their accommodation needs or update your emergency procedures.

As recent news has shown us, we never know where or when disaster will strike.

Take the Boy Scout motto to heart:  “Be Prepared”

Make sure your employees are, too