Emergency response preparedness for "not if" but "when" requires a dynamic and effective training program.
It will never happen to us: Six little words that haunt various job titles throughout industry. Those who have experienced a wake-up call will replay scenarios over and over in their minds: Why didn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t our employees know how to handle this? Did anyone check this contractor out? Hopefully, it was only a wake-up call. The goal is to never have to wonder about that other set of questions: How long did he work here? Did she have family? Are the media here? These questions and more will continue to linger for months and even years. The excuses, on the other hand, will only have a short shelf life.
Providing a safe work environment and protecting employees is a huge task. Government regulations, company policies, and less-than-cooperative employees can pose huge challenges. Technology at times seems to be our enemy. We have more and more tools that provide us with more data than we can process in a timely manner. Stacks of paper and page after page of emails wait for our attention. How do we provide our employees with quality training that keeps them interested in operating safely? How do we give them that common core of knowledge and a necessary skill set that will help them handle potential disasters calmly, efficiently, and in a safe matter?
The truth is that there is no easy answer. Every type of industry out there has its own unique set of risks and dangers. If something goes wrong, production can come to a halt. If something goes wrong, people get hurt. If something goes wrong, you may end up on the evening news, or you might be the next hot topic trending on the web.
I was recently reading a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The investigator referred to the accident in question as a “major safety failure.” It referred to failure to follow established procedures, with a further note of “classic miscommunication or misunderstanding.” It’s sad that this problem is so frequent that it is referred to as “classic.” I can’t stress enough the importance of your employees being familiar with the systems and action plan that you have in place. They can only become familiar with these type things through training. When tragedy strikes, crucial decisions have to be made in a timely manner. Simply making decisions on the fly with little to no training or experience to rely upon is a recipe for further disaster.
Emergency response preparedness for “not if” but “when” requires a dynamic and effective training program—training that not only meets mandates, but also exceeds requirements. Training that is fresh and that helps motivate. Training that is effective in not only preventing injuries, but also avoiding shutdowns. Training that keeps your company from becoming a headline.
None of us wants to be the reason that OSHA comes out with a ruling or a fresh focus on a topic. Here are a few things to consider that can improve what we do and ultimately provide a better end result for when it happens.
· Are we up to date? When was the last time that your action plan was updated? Have there been upgrades or additions to your equipment or facilities? Have processes changed? Are there new hazards? Something as simple as a list of names and contact numbers easily becomes outdated in our ever-changing world. When an emergency occurs, time is valuable. If a good, updated plan is not easily accessible from the start of an incident, then you are already behind the eight ball.
· Do we have the right equipment? From the nurse’s station to the first aid kit to your specialty response team, having the right equipment for your type of facility is crucial. Where is this equipment stored? Is it accessible for the people who need it? Is it kept under lock and key? Are there inventory sheets so that we can make sure that nothing is missing or out of date? Checks of equipment should be made at least quarterly, and preferably monthly. Items can disappear and the workplace can become cluttered; equipment that is well organized and accounted for will put you ahead of the game by saving time when seconds count.
· Do my employees know how to use it? If you have specialty response teams, they should be familiar with every piece of equipment in your cache. As members rotate on and off the team, it is easy for experience to be lost in the shuffle. When was the last time your equipment was reviewed for identification purposes, as well as proper use? Have an experienced team member mentor a new employee. Does your company have a succession plan in place so that key information that is gained from seasoned employees isn’t lost when they move on? The monthly check of equipment is a good time to review what certain pieces of equipment are called and how they are used. It’s amazing how simply memories are refreshed just by touching the equipment and jogging that memory of its use. If for nothing else, just to make sure things are located where they are supposed to be and in working order.
· How do we get the employees to buy in? Does your training schedule occur because it’s mandated or because there is a need? If management or the person in charge of training has a hard time justifying this need, then your process is flawed from the start. Success starts with training; study after study shows the importance of training and having a bank of knowledge to draw from to be fully prepared for an emergency response. Unlike municipalities or outside emergency response teams, your own special response teams don’t have the luxury of experiencing these types of emergencies over and over again. There may not be another chance to get it right or do a better job; the only thing that they have to fall back on is training. The first reactions to an accident or a disaster will dictate the success or failure of whatever action plan is in place. Having employees who are aware and comfortable with that action plan is a direct reflection of the training that they have received. Obtaining this knowledge base and knowing how to use it doesn’t happen by chance—employees have to understand the need for this training so they are ready when an incident occurs. If the knowledge bank is empty, then the process is doomed to failure.
Meeting the Challenge
Keeping employees interested in training is a challenge. Going over the same thing year after year can be brutal. Try to create training and exercises that are unique to your own workplace. Ask employees where they feel they need to be trained.
What is the worst disaster that could happen on your property? Develop realistic scenarios for your job site and develop a plan to respond. Industry is at an advantage over the average business out there; you know exactly what your exposures are on site and you know exactly the processes used in manufacturing and what the potential is if those processes occur out of order. Action plans should be developed for every process on site.
In the minutes it takes to call for help, a lot can happen. In the next five minutes that it takes that call to be dispatched and for help to get started rolling, even more can happen. In the next five minutes that it takes for help to arrive and get to the right location on site, conditions may have become drastically worse.
The bottom line is that no matter how small or large an accident, emergency response preparedness is crucial in getting a response to an incident started right, and starting right can be achieved only by creating that knowledge base through an ever-evolving training program before an incident occurs.
Dave Carter is an independent safety instructor and consultant for Priority One Safe-T, LLC, an industrial safety training, standby rescue services, and emergency response consulting firm (www.priority1safe-t.com). He is also a firefighter employed with the Springfield Fire department in Missouri, where he carries the rank of captain and is the Rescue Team leader for his shift. With more than 18 years of experience as a career firefighter, Carter is certified in numerous types of rescue categories, a certified Fire Instructor, a Hazardous Materials Technician for the Homeland Security Regional Response Team for Southwest Missouri Region D that covers 19 counties, and a member of the Southwest Missouri Incident Support Team. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Drury University.