Workplace emergencies are unforeseen situations that threaten your employees, customers or the public, disrupts or shutdowns your operations, or causes physical or environmental damage. Many facilities are fortunate enough to have never had a workplace emergency, but as time goes on, it is likely that most will have an emergency at some point. It could be a situation as seemingly benign as inclement weather that takes a turn for the worse. Companies with facilities on the water can all relate to that scenario.
The role of outside agencies – including fire departments and rescue squads – is to come to your aid when necessary. These agencies spend less than five percent of their time within an industrial setting, so their experience with maritime facilities is limited.
Consider how that could affect how they come to your aid. Maritime facilities such as shipyards and marine cargo handling terminals are riddled with hazards that these agencies are unfamiliar with, such as steam, open busbars, and gantry cranes. Because they do not have much experience dealing with the hazards you and your employees face daily, they will have a limited perspective on the hazards or risks involved when they come to your aid. By bringing them in before an emergency occurs, you enable them to help you more effectively when the time comes.
The Purpose of Pre-planning
The purpose of the emergency plan is to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the emergency situation or circumstances you might face. For those operating on the coastline, that likely involves floods, potentially high winds, chemical releases, and even activity at neighboring facilities.
Emergency action plans should include, at a minimum, the following elements:
It is important to be mindful of how these procedures are developed because it requires thorough training of any employees involved. For example, in the event of an emergency, are employees supposed to calling company security first? How about their supervisor? Or, should they call the outside agencies directly? If the latter, do they know how to convey an emergency to 911? This example alone showcases the level of detail required for an emergency plan to be executed smoothly.
Most emergency conditions that companies will face are medical in nature – e.g., sickness, heart attacks, injuries, and so on. Depending on the situation, there is a possibility that multiple outside agencies will be involved, from fire departments to police departments to technical rescue teams.
Fire departments tend to be the primary point of contact for companies because their actions will set in motion other agencies. For this reason, effective pre-planning for emergencies starts with the local fire department – specifically, the local battalion chief. Depending on the size of the geographic location, the battalion chief could shift every six to eight months depending on staffing needs, so that is something to consider as well.
One of the main benefits of engaging outside agencies before an emergency occurs is gaining familiarization with your site. This is important because they will become familiar with any operational hazards you might have, such as motorized equipment, crane operations, overhead electrical exposures, and so on.
Electrical distribution shut-off is an excellent example of why site familiarization is so important. Most industrial facilities have levels of electricity that outside agencies are not accustomed to in residential situations. If your facility has a substation or motor control centers, it is extremely helpful for outside agencies to see where they are located and know how to shut them down in an emergency situation. Another example is natural gas shut-off lines, if applicable to the site.
Many maritime facilities have areas with height restrictions, weight limits and other physical barriers. For example, if your main entrance has an overhead pipe rack, ladder trucks may not be able to enter. By running emergency drills with local outside agencies, you will be able to identify any potential issues with equipment, oversized vehicles, and so on.
Here are some specific areas of consideration when running emergency drills:
Understand the Language of Outside Agencies
It is becoming increasingly important to speak the language of your local responders. One way this can be achieved is by obtaining National Incident Management System (NIMS) certification. This will enable you to, once authorized, talk directly to emergency responders on a TAC channel. NIMS certification is available free of charge and helps you understand not only how the responding agencies work together, but the language they speak. Without that, your ability to pre-plan for an emergency is limited.
Having this ability gives you a voice in that unified command structure. Otherwise, you may experience a situation where a battalion chief makes a decision that impacts the fate of your company because you were not present in that decision. The only way most will allow you to be a part of the decision is by going through the NIMS training and certification.
Picture this: a traumatic medical emergency occurs at your facility. Most likely, you are going to have a fire fighters, medics, and police officers on the scene based on your call to 911. If you are NIMS certified and approved to communicate over the TAC channels, you can use your facility’s radio to communicate directly to the agencies and advise that there is no fire – you only need medical resources. You also can communicate with the hospital, alerting them that someone with a very traumatic injury is headed their way. That could be the difference of life or death for the injured worker.
Having radios to communicate with outside agencies is not the only way you can gain control over the response time of your emergency. PA systems at your facility will allow you to communicate with anyone who is working at that time, which – as long as everyone is trained in advance about emergency procedures – could also have a life-saving effect.
Initiating the Process: Three Steps
To initiate a process of working with your outside agencies, here are three steps you should take:
When you first embark down this path of emergency pre-planning, you may receive some criticism from your employees. They will say they have not been given the right directions or tools – and they may be right, especially if this is the first time you have really started to plan for emergency situations. While you will need some thick skin in the beginning, the coordination that you ultimately have with outside agencies will be invaluable – and in some cases, could be the key to making sure your employees return home from work safely.
Reference for additional information: OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.38
Joe White, Director, AEU LEAD®
Joe White is the Director of AEU LEAD™, the management consulting division of The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. With nearly three decades of operational safety experience, Joe and the AEU LEAD team help employers transform operational goals into actionable plans through structured change management and leadership training. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions, where he developed safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a Bachelor of Science in Safety and Risk Administration.