You can’t always avoid a disaster but you can react efficiently and effectively.
It’s one thing to add time in a schedule for bad weather, but would you and your employees know what to do in the event of a flood, fire or other natural or manmade disaster?
Planning for the unexpected doesn’t demand you be able to read a crystal ball. It simply requires establishing procedures in advance to reduce damage and protect workers. Organizations including FEMA, OSHA, the CDC and Ready.gov offer a variety of resources for crafting a preparedness plan for a wide variety of disasters.
Each construction site is unique and faces its own hazards, so it’s important to do a hazard analysis to identify the kinds of emergencies that mind occur. Also consider the following tips:
Know what’s coming. While not all disasters come with warning, you can better arm yourself against many weather-related emergencies with an app-based warning system. “Download alert apps, such as the NOAA weather app, and turn on your alerts so you hear what’s coming down the road,” advised Stephen M. Wiltshire, director of safety for Associated Builders and Contractors.
Have separate plans for evacuating and sheltering in place. Hurricanes and fires, for example, generally require evacuation, and since every construction site is different, you should create a site-specific evacuation plan for each site. In situations such as a chemical release, it may be best to shelter in place, and that procedure, as well as a sheltering place, should also be identified in advance. It’s important to determine which emergencies will trigger which plan.
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Establish a chain of command. The safety coordinator, followed by jobsite superintendents and foremen, for example, should be held responsible for ensuring compliance with the emergency preparedness plan. This includes reaching out to the required response team, whether that be the local utility or EMS.
Train people on the plans. Per OSHA, employers should educate workers about the types of emergencies that could happen and train them in the proper course of action. Regular reinforcement will limit confusion in the moment of an emergency. Walk through your preparedness plan with everyone involved.
Establish a way to communicate. In the event that employees are forced to evacuate the jobsite, you’ll need a way to communicate with them if phone and power lines are down. This might mean forwarding calls to a cell phone or remote number so employees, families and vendors can reach management.
Plan, prepare, repeat. “Check your preparations quarterly,” Wiltshire advised. Frequent reviews will help you account for the constant change of a construction site and the potential introduction of new hazards. By revisiting your plans regularly you can also see if they need to be updated to address specific seasonal hazards. Whenever you revisit the plans, take the opportunity to do more training on them with the team.
Urge caution when returning to the jobsite. Wiltshire noted that the most dangerous part of a disaster can be the recovery stage, as contractors return to jobsites newly peppered with downed power lines and additional equipment such as generators. For example, said Wiltshire, “there’s the carbon monoxide factor when placing a generator upwind in a confined space.”
While it’s true you can’t prepare for everything, advanced preparation and planning can ensure your entire crew knows how to move safely out of harm’s way if disaster strikes.
Megan Headley has been writing about every aspect of the built environment since 2004. As owner of ClearStory Publications, LLC, Megan demonstrates her passion for helping contractors create more productive and safer jobsites, and more sustainable and successful projects.