Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster? Planning for Employee Safety

The state of Florida is known around the world for its beaches, natural beauty and theme parks. The sunshine state is also known for its fluctuating weather and tropical storms. According to the National Hurricane Center’s report, Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since 2007, was responsible for more than $10 billion in direct damages in the United States.  Additionally, it is estimated that 1 out of 4 businesses affected by a major storm never recover or reopen because they are not prepared to respond to a natural disaster.

Although storms have taught Floridians to be prepared for imminent disaster, the nagging question for most commercial roofing contractors and building owners still is “are you prepared for a catastrophic storm?” And furthermore, “do you have a written plan to deal with such disasters that will allow you to conduct business safely?”

There are many free resources online that can help both contractors and building owners start formulating a written plan that allows them to be successful during chaotic periods. However, a majority of these resources, when talking about hurricane preparedness, is based on the financial benefits to an employer or owner. While that is a great incentive to be prepared, very little importance is given to the disaster preparedness’ connection to employee safety.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) now mandates that employers with 10 or more employees must have a written emergency action plan, according to Standard 1910.38.  In conjunction with an emergency action plan, employers must train employees on safety procedures

and how to execute the action plan before, during and after an emergency or disaster. OSHA understands the challenges a hurricane or any other disaster can bring to contractors and building owners regarding employee safety, thus regulating the need for a plan.

Roofing contractors strongly suggest that both contractors and building owners keep in mind these vital steps from OSHA’s Standard 1910.38 when formulating a written plan to save an employer time and money, while keeping employees working safely after a major disaster:

Develop a plan

If your company or business has more than 10 employees, you are required to have a written emergency action plan with direct application to your industry. Develop a plan that is accessible to all employees both at the company offices and fields of operations. The plan must include the following:

  • Communication procedures to report an emergency that warns all employees of the emergency and the actions to be taken. For example, this message can be communicated through emails, text messages or alarms systems.
  • Emergency evacuation procedures for all employees containing meeting points for everyone before and after the emergency.
  • Operations procedures for employees that clearly identify when employees should remain in place to conduct critical operations, as well as procedures to account for every employee after the emergency.
  • Comprehensive contact list that includes names, numbers, emails and titles for all employees performing critical duties. These employees should be points of contact for other employees to clarify any concern or question before and after an emergency.

Train Employees

Employers must train employees on all the details outlined in the action plan so they can efficiently and quickly execute the plan during and after an emergency or disaster occurs.

Report changes

Any changes to a written plan must be communicated clearly to all employees as soon as possible to eliminate confusion and potential dangers.

Although these are just highlights from OSHA’s standards, and the full regulation should be reviewed by contractors and building owners, the regulations are mandated to keep employees working safely during and after a major storm. After a significant storm, commercial roofing contractors are among one of the first construction-related responders to arrive on site in many natural disaster emergencies to help businesses resume operations quickly. This makes roofing contractors particularly vulnerable to the liability of having untrained workforces operating without a written plan before and after a disaster. Both contractors and building owners should take such liability away by being proactive and working towards developing and implementing emergency action plans that are simple and effective.

Nonetheless, the question remains “Why do this?”

Most commercial roofing contractors agree that the key to safety is to formulate a culture that breaks the “this will never happen to me” mentality among employers. The same way contractors need to break the still lingering negative culture that says, “why do we need a plan that will never be used by our employees?” attitude. Both cultures are hard to break, and both are a great challenge for the younger generations of roofing contractors, in part because of the nature of the business. With more and more contractors taking actionable steps in the right direction to respond quickly and efficiently from catastrophic weather, building owners can also be confident in keeping their tenants safe by preparing appropriately before a storm hits.

This was originally published in Florida Roofing Magazine.

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