Every organisation has a responsibility to safeguard its employees and deliver the highest possible duty of care possible. Yet there were still 611,000 UK workplace injuries during 2015. That's one accident for every 516 employees, a concerning statistic.
Obviously, there will always be an element of risk that impacts health and safety. And that risk can never be mitigated entirely. However, if your organisation was in crisis, would you be confident that your policies and systems are capable of handling a large scale incident?
Despite the best laid plans, ensuring the required actions are carried out in an emergency situation can be challenging, with results that are vastly different to expectations. If this is the case, it could indicate that the procedures are unclear or require review. Below are 10 of the most important aspects of any emergency procedure that must be clear and considered thoroughly in order to be prepared for any event.
1. Raising the Alarm
In a workforce of 200, it can take up to 9 minutes to raise the alarm and begin evacuation procedures. When operating across a large estate or in a loud environment, alarms can easily be missed or overlooked and are not guaranteed to alert every member of staff.
|"In a workforce of 200, it can take up to 9 minutes to raise the alarm & begin evacuation procedures."|
By introducing resilient systems which reach staff through multiple, personal communication channels rather than a single alarm, the probability of reaching all staff is significantly increased. Secondary direct, alarms over email, SMS, push notifications and calling can decrease initial response times significantly.
2. Roles & Responsibilities
If a crisis does occur, a poor or mis-managed response can be just as harmful (if not moreso) than the incident itself. By designating and training trusted members of your team as first aiders and fire marshals you can minimise the impact of any initial confusion by ensuring a clear line of authority and communication.
Designated leaders must be trained and prepared for any situation as they are vital to ensuring that staff can be accounted for as quickly as possible. In addition to training, it is important to equip these individuals with the tools they require to act swiftly. An array of technology providers now provide products that support staff, such as generate electronic registers that use data from RFID building entry systems.
3. Equipment Locations
In certain situations, staff will need to access specialist equipment. Fire extinguishers, first aid kits, fire blankets or even defibrillators may be required at very short notice. Ensuring that this equipment is functioning correctly, easy to access and always available is key.
If an emergency does arise and staff are not aware of emergency equipment location, availability or have not been trained in how to use it, no amount of policy or best practice will be able to compensate.
4. Testing Schedules
It may be obvious, but the importance of regular testing should not be underestimated. There are 3,340 fires in office buildings alone every year, equating to almost a hundred every day. If you do not perform regular drills and alarm system checks then staff may not react as expected in a real-world situation. However, regular performance testing enables you to constantly analyse response and evacuations times, reviewing your procedure accordingly to make improvements.
|"Regular fire drills and are critical to managing staff expectations and reviewing procedures."|
Additionally, regular equipment testing is vital. It is recommended that commercial fire alarm systems are inspected at least every six months and it a legal requirement to perform annual inspections on fire extinguishers supplied internally. Failure to comply to these checks is not only a breach of ‘The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005’ but is also putting your staff directly in harm’s way.
5. The Impact of Language
As previously stated, panic can easily spread during an emergency. Using clear and simple language in health & safety policies is key to avoiding unnecessary confusion. Communication between people who use different terminology can be unproductive simply due to the different meanings attached to the same words.
6. Remote & Field Staff
Common oversights in many health and safety policies is that their primary focus is on office staff - neglecting emergency procedures for remote or lone workers. There are currently over 1.3 billion remote workers globally, representing 37.2% of the total workforce. Failing to prepare contingency plans for if these workers are affected by an off-site crisis is grossly negligent.
In the event of a localised incident near a remote workers’ area of operations, quick communications are key. Failure to alert affected personnel to potential hazards and subsequent actions they need to take could endanger staff and increase emergency response times.
7. Time of Day
In certain industries, the presence of shift patterns can cause a unique set of challenges. Unusual working hours can have a huge effect on both mental and physical health. Regular night shifts can lead to increased fatigue, stress and lack of concentration, all of which increase on-site safety risks as a result.
Consequently, all employers should forge a pre-emptive safety plan to lessen the likelihood of night shift emergencies. These plans should include educating staff to the risks of sleep deprivation , implementing carpool schemes to lower commuting dangers and ensuring workers undergo risk assessments before starting new shift patterns.
8. Risk Identification
Emergency procedures should always encompass plans for identifying and assisting those at risk during dangerous incidents. There should always be a way to account for every lone worker in the field or on-site during an emergency. Similarly, being able to quickly identify workers during an evacuation who haven’t reached a designated assembly point is essential.
|"Identifying and minimising risks is the most important aspect of any emergency response strategy."|
Many standardised emergency procedures fall short, not providing adequate guidance or mechanisms to find these people. Furthermore, in many cases, no formal advice on escalating response efforts to help those individuals once they’re located is offered. To be a true end-to-end procedure, all contingencies must be included, with a clear set of actions identified for unaccounted individuals.
9. Business Recovery
Planning appropriate emergency procedures to implement during an unfolding crisis should only constitute one element of your strategy. Significant emphasis should also be placed on developing disaster recovery strategies, enabling your organisation to return to business-as-usual as soon as possible.
54% of companies report downtime of over eight hours as a result of a single emergency event - an entire working day's worth of lost productivity. The indirect cost of any organisation being closed due to unforeseen circumstances can spiral based on staff costs alone. Considering the additional consequential loss of productivity and output, it is easy to see how the absence of a disaster recovery plan can instantly slash organisational share value.
10. Instant Communication Channels
In any emergency event, timing and speed is by far and away the most important factor. If you can communicate rapidly and constantly with all relevant staff, then you maximise your chance of a speedy response and successful recovery.
At CommonTime we have developed a mass notification system; Crisis Centre, which addresses many of the inefficiencies in mainstream products. By sending persistent alerts that do not disappear until users have acknowledged them you’re able to drastically reduce employee response times from hours to minutes.
Find out more about our emergency mass notification system - Crisis Centre - and how persistent alerts reduce response times during major incidents & emergencies.