Safety Assessment Part 5: Identify hazards associated with emergency and non-routine situations
Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and workers have to follow emergency protocols or pivot on the fly to handle an out-of-the-ordinary situation. When emergencies happen, it breaks the routine and can create unfamiliar circumstances, making it all too easy to slip up.
Whether it’s a fire breaking out, a machine breaking down, or a chemical spill, an emergency changes the norm. Even an outbreak of disease as simple as the flu can put schedules into flux and tax workers who suddenly find themselves working in areas they are less familiar with or having to cover more hours, leading to exhaustion.
What new hazards pop up when this happens? Talk to your employees about non-routine situations that have happened and what challenges they faced. Ask them to help identify hazards. You might be surprised by what you learn.
Review your emergency procedures for any potential safety issues. Then, try to think of any and all potential emergencies and identify hazards that could pop up in your business. Here are a few suggested by OSHA:
- Fires and explosions
- Chemical releases
- Hazardous material spills
- Unexpected startups after planned or unplanned equipment shutdowns
- Nonroutine tasks, such as infrequently performed maintenance activities
- Structural collapse
- Disease outbreaks
- Weather emergencies and natural disasters
- Medical emergencies
- Workplace violence
Emergencies and non-routine situations change behaviors. Something as simple as a machine breaking down can cause distress as production goals, or even bonuses, become endangered. This can lead to rushing or even panic, which is not a safe work environment at all.
Use this easy-to-read Emergency Shut Off sign to make your Emergency Response message clear to employees and visitors.
Responding Instead of Reacting
These two words, “react” and “respond,” can make all the difference in an emergency. Simply put, when you react, you are moving on instinct. A reaction is a quick reply to a situation with little to no thought involved. A response, on the other hand, is a decision. Responding to an emergency situation means jumping into action with some foreknowledge of what is required.
To minimize the dangers of emergency or non-routine situations, you want workers to respond instead of reacting. The key to making that happen is to plan for all scenarios and train your employees to respond accordingly.
When you ponder each emergency scenario, consider things like evacuation routes, personnel shifts, and protective equipment. Then, implement the training required, so each employee knows exactly what they need to do if the unthinkable happens.
Life happens, and it’s not always pretty, but being prepared for the worst can make it a lot less daunting if it does come to pass and minimize the damage. It’s like those seatbelts in your car. You hope you never really need them, but it’s a good idea to put them on just in case.