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The Role of Emergency Preparedness in Safety Management

The North American summer has begun. And already, the continent has experienced brutal heat waves, with an active hurricane season forecasted in the Atlantic.

Worker health in these conditions must be considered. Which calls for increasing attention on the role of emergency preparedness in safety management.

Read on to learn how to get it right.

What is a workplace emergency?

One might think that emergency preparedness is an emergency management concern. But if you are responsible for people, it’s your responsibility, as well.

Indeed, you may have to deal with protecting your people from an emergency while they are on the clock.

So, what should you know about the role of emergency preparedness in safety management besides stashing unused plans in your safety management software platform?

A good place to start is knowing what qualifies as a workplace emergency.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a workplace emergency is a situation that threatens workers, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.

Workplace emergencies may be natural or man-made. They can include any of the following:

  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Earthquakes
  • Floods
  • Wildfires
  • Winter weather
  • Chemical spills or releases
  • Disease outbreaks
  • Releases of biological agents
  • Explosions involving nuclear or radiological sources
  • Many other hazard

Can you anticipate a workplace emergency?

While a tornado might come with little warning, many types of workplace emergencies, including tornadoes themselves, can be anticipated.

That’s part in parcel of the role of emergency management in work health and safety. That consists of developing a list of anticipatable (or likely) hazards during the emergency planning process. And creating emergency action plans to keep workers safe.

Best practice approach to emergency preparedness in safety management

But how to ensure you are doing the best to keep your workers safe?

That’s where best-practice safety management standards come in. Among them, international safety management system standard, ISO 45001: 2018 stands out.

Why’s that? Most significantly, ISO 45001 lays out robust protocols for emergency management.

In contrast, many other standards just focus on superficial changes to emergency evacuation procedures.

ISO 45001 focuses on the role of emergency preparedness in work health and safety

So, what’s unique about the ISO 45001 approach?

For starters, the standard mandates that safety professionals take a far more active part in all stages of the emergency management lifecycle, i.e., mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

The standard also broadens the number of (internal and external) stakeholders who must be consulted throughout the process, enlarging the list to relevant emergency response agencies and the local community.  

Per ISO 45001, organizations must also take the following steps to anticipate, prevent, or minimize risk from potential emergencies:

  • Identify and plan for potential emergency situations; integrate emergency exercises into your safety management system
  • Prepare a planned response to emergency situations, such as bomb threats, terrorist attacks, active shooter incidents, or natural disasters
  • Periodically test and exercise emergency response capabilities
  • Evaluate and revise emergency preparedness measures, especially after the occurrence of emergency situations
  • Provide relevant information to all members of the organizations regarding their duties and responsibilities during an emergency event
    • At the very least, organizations should proactively maintain up-to-date contact details of all internal and external stakeholders and procure mass communication tools to be deployed during major emergencies, e.g., earthquakes and storms
  • Provide emergency prevention, preparedness, and response training
  • Communicate information to contractors, visitors, relevant emergency response services, government authorities, and the local community

Finally, the return of the North American summer has already meant an uptick in severe weather events. But severe weather can happen at any time, with emergencies of all kinds becoming more prolific.

Employers, therefore, must fully consider the role of emergency preparedness in their safety management programs. To do it well, they should consult best-practice standards like ISO 45001. What else does that standard say, though? Download our Introductory Guide to ISO 45001 to find out.

Download an Introductory Guide to ISO 45001