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Half of Companies Not Prepared for Emergencies, Employees Say

Whether it’s a tornado bearing down, a fire on the factory floor or a disgruntled colleague brandishing a rifle in the office, panic takes hold and chaos often ensues when emergency situations occur at work.

A new survey by office supply company Staples found that 50 percent of employees believe their workplace is prepared for a severe emergency. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said recent natural disasters have not led to their employers reassessing company safety plans. The survey also revealed that in the past six months nearly half of businesses have closed due to severe weather, costing the economy nearly $50 billion in lost productivity.

“Safety is a top priority for employers, but there is still more planning and training that can be done to improve safety in the workplace,” said Bob Risk, national safety, health and wellness manager for Staples, in a news release.

Staples conducted the online survey of more than 400 office workers and 400 decision-makers at organizations of all sizes across the U.S. in May 2014.

According to the survey, while half of respondents said their employers had the plans or equipment in place for severe weather events such as blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes or floods, 75 percent said their employers were prepared for fires.

Size Matters

Employees at small companies feel more at risk when it comes to emergencies and disasters than employees at larger companies, the survey found. Workers at businesses with fewer than 50 people were less sure of who is in charge of emergency planning than employees at larger organizations. Employees from smaller companies also reported having less emergency equipment or plans in place, are less likely to hold safety reviews or drills, and are less prepared for severe emergencies than their counterparts at larger companies.

Emergency Must-Haves

Many employers not only lack emergency action plans, but also fail to communicate with and train their workforces about what to do in case of an emergency, according to Risk. Advance planning is crucial to emergency preparation, and a plan won’t be effective if employees are unaware that it exists. He offered these basic tips for a safer working environment:

  • An emergency safety plan should include procedures to respond to various emergency situations, methods to recover and maintain business continuity, and employee training and drills.
  • Businesses should ensure that must-have safety products are onsite, including first-aid kits, fire extinguishers, crank-powered cellphone chargers and flashlights, equipment such as protective clothing and respiratory protection, and important emergency supplies (water, food, batteries) applicable to many different types of emergencies.

Emergency Evacuation Plans

Does your company have a formal, published policy on emergency evacuations? Do your people know what to do or where to go during an emergency event? If not, “you and your colleagues could be accused of corporate negligence,” said Jim Burtles, an international business continuity management consultant, based in London. In his book, Emergency Evacuation Planning for Your Workplace (Rothstein Publishing, 2013), Burtles offers the following elements for an effective emergency evacuation plan:

  • Single point of responsibility. Someone is responsible for the safe evacuation of all personnel onsite.
  • Trained marshals in all areas.
  • Well-marked exit and escape routes.
  • Multiple safe assembly areas.
  • Protected exit points.
  • A visitor awareness program. All visitors need to be informed about emergency evacuation procedures as well.
  • Regular training and drills.
  • An effective personnel accounting procedure.
  • Post-incident support.

Find out how your company’s emergency planning compares by answering five questions in the interactive infographic, How Safe Is Your Company?

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy


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