Business owners have a responsibility to provide a reasonably safe workplace for all employees. Depending on your industry, you may have to follow specific safety guidelines for day-to-day operations. Still, your business should also have an emergency plan in place should a natural disaster or other disturbance threaten the safety of your workers. You should also have protocols for dealing with employee and customer injuries that occur on your business property.
Evacuations and Emergencies
Potentially dangerous emergencies for businesses vary by industry. For instance, a chemical manufacturer may have a toxic spill that puts workers and nearby residents in harm’s way. However, some general threats, like natural disasters, create risks for all companies, regardless of the nature of their work. For example, any business can experience the following:
- Gas leaks
- Tornados, hurricanes, or earthquakes, depending on your location
- Civil disturbances
- Fights between workers
As a business owner, you must take reasonable steps to prevent certain emergencies, like a fire caused by faulty wiring, but other occurrences are out of your control. Whether you could have prevented it or not, you have a responsibility to protect your workers as best you can during an emergency situation. Having workplace emergency plans will help you take the right course of action when under pressure.
To develop a workplace emergency plan, you can follow these four basic steps:
- Risk Assessment– Consider the risks for your industry, workspace, and geographical location. For example, if you do business in Los Angeles, prepare for earthquakes and wildfires. Think of the worst that could happen so you can create a complete plan.
- Evacuation– Some emergencies require getting out of the building, such as in the case of a fire. Have a clear, easy-to-follow plan for guiding workers and clients out, and make sure it is prominently displayed. You should also have a location designated for gathering and counting heads.
- Emergency Procedures– Some workers can simply get up and go during an emergency, but others may have to take critical steps to prevent further damage before leaving the scene. Make sure your employees understand in advance what they need to do, such as sending emergency signals or shutting down equipment.
- Alert System– Prepare a procedure for alerting all employees in the event of an emergency. This may require you to install alarms, sirens, or loudspeakers.
Protecting people is the priority in an emergency, but any plan should include protections for preserving data and records if it’s safe to do so.
Employers also have to do their due diligence to prevent workplace injures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides an employer guide to held business owners to understand their legal obligations in regard to workplace safety.
However, despite your best efforts, you can’t eliminate all potential risks, and sooner or later, you may have to deal with an employee injury. Here’s what to do should a worker sustain an injury while on the job:
- The employee’s health is most important, so call emergency services immediately, if necessary. If the circumstances that caused the injury are ongoing, clear the area to keep other employees safe.
- Document the incident with as much detail as possible, even if the worker seems unharmed after an accident.
- Report the incident to OSHA, if required.
- Provide an employee injury at work claim form so that the injured employee can file for workers’ compensation if they need it.
Other On-Premises Injuries
A customer or third-party injury in your workplace is a little bit different. What remains the same is prioritizing medical care. Respond as you would to any accident by calling for emergency support if necessary.
Once they have stabilized or are receiving medical care, take steps to document the incident. Take pictures of the accident scene and collect contact information from any witnesses. Then, contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the incident.
Third-party injuries could leave you vulnerable to a premises liability lawsuit. Take steps to prevent injuries and avoid claims by regularly inspecting the workplace for issues, correcting any unsafe conditions, and warning visitors of any hazards with clear signage.
As you take preventative measures to make your workplace safer, keep this in mind: if you could have prevented a situation that caused an injury, you could be held liable.
Emergency Plans as Last Resort
While having emergency plans in place is essential, they should be a last resort. Long before you have to use these protocols, you should take all reasonable steps to create and maintain a safe workplace, both for employees and for customers.