Six mistakes companies make during emergency planning

"Disaster can strike at any moment, leaving employees afraid and confused amidst chaos," says John Amann, vice president, first aid and safety, for Cintas Corporation, a leader in first-aid and safety products (www.cintas.com). "However, if safety directors prepare workers beforehand, they can ensure they're ready for a potential emergency.

"Understanding common mistakes businesses make in preparing for emergencies is an important step in emergency planning and training."

According to Cintas, the worst emergency planning mistakes made by businesses and their remedies, include:

1. Forgetting to write and update emergency action plans.

Every business should have emergency action plans that detail evacuation procedures in case of fire or flood, and also where employees can take shelter in the event of an earthquake or tornado. These plans should be posted in a public area and reviewed in detail in safety training sessions.

Safety directors should also update emergency plans periodically to incorporate new risks or improve procedures.

2. Conducting fire drills infrequently.

Fire drills should be conducted twice each year and cover primary and alternative exit routes. Safety directors must emphasize that everyone should evacuate immediately whenever alarms sound.

Designate an evacuation meeting point so that everyone understands where to go once outside and use an employee roster to take attendance once at the meeting spot.

3. Providing inadequate tornado and earthquake shelter.

Businesses in high-risk areas should designate shelters for extreme weather events and conduct annual drills. If employees are unaware of where to take shelter, chaos can ensue in times of emergency.

4. Assuming workers know how call for help in the event of an emergency.

Employers should ensure that every employee at the facility knows when and how to reach their emergency service providers. Encourage employees to call 911 from a landline as opposed to a cellular device and post signs that indicate how to dial out using the landline.

Employees should also know what to do in case emergency help is called, such as who will meet the responding emergency personnel.

Since help is often more than 8 to 10 minutes away, employees should be trained to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) - a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and if needed, can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm - and a fire extinguisher. This could be the difference between life and death.

5. Failing to thoroughly educate about toxic materials.

Chemicals can cause burns, explosions and serious injuries if workers don't take proper precautions. Before allowing employees to work with chemicals, require them to complete training.

Remind them to wear gloves, masks and uniforms that cover skin completely, read all warnings, directions and hazard pictorials, and make sure to ventilate the work area.

6. Becoming complacent about safety.

Assuming an emergency will not happen is a dangerous mentality. Businesses should never assume a fire, chemical spill, explosion, flood or epidemic will not occur.

Take a proactive approach and ensure all employees are trained on how to handle all types of disasters.

Conduct training that details a variety of emergency responses, from a cardiac arrest incident or fire, to a natural disaster such as a tornado or earthquake.

Taking a proactive approach will help employees react without panic if a large-scale emergency were to occur.

"Teaching employees about potential emergencies and proper response is an important part of every disaster plan," Jamie Samide, senior director of marketing, Cintas, says. "Taking a proactive approach by having training and safety equipment in place and also having reactive solutions, like AEDs, in place will help businesses respond to any type of emergency."

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