According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, many businesses are ill-prepared for an emergency, mostly because they have an attitude of: “It can’t happen here.” But it can.
An Insurance Bureau of Canada report found that nearly 4,000 earthquakes rattle the country every year. Most of them are so small that they go unnoticed, but the same report says a major earthquake — one that could cause damage of $60 billion to $75 billion and have a ripple effect through the Canadian economy — is likely within the next 50 years.
And an earthquake isn’t the only emergency event that could occur. Other such unplanned incidents could include a fire, a terrorist attack and workplace violence.
This is why building managers should have a program in place to deal with emergencies. Besides potentially helping to save lives, appropriate planning can help to reduce damage to a facility and allow its operations to be restored sooner.
So what goes into creating an emergency plan?
Start with some general considerations for building evacuations and safe zones.
Know where all exits are and make sure they are all properly marked. Also make sure exit doors are wide enough — per the local building code — and that they open in the direction of travel to exit the building. Lastly, make sure the exits are clear. There should be no debris or vegetation blocking any exit; during certain times of the year, this might require the custodial staff to make sure that ice and snow buildup does not block fast and efficient egress.
In some cases, leaving the facility during an emergency is not an option. In such situations, designate an area away from glass, flying debris, and combustible materials as a safe zone. This area should be stocked with emergency supplies, including first-aid kits, flashlights, an emergency cell phone, and drinking water, among other things. Mark all items with the date they were last tested or inspected. As part of the emergency program, check emergency supplies every two or three months. (More on first-aid equipment below.)
The preceding items addressed general emergency preparedness plans. Be aware that plans will vary depending on how a building is used. For instance, the needs of office building occupants in an emergency situation will differ from those of industrial or manufacturing centre occupants. That’s why building managers should also have facility-specific plans in place. They should include the following provisions.
Detail who should do what during an emergency, including who should remain in the facility as long as it is safely possible to ensure all inhabitants have safely evacuated. Document that plan in writing, store it in a safe but accessible area, and regularly review it with the people who will most likely be called upon to assist building users when an emergency strikes. And don’t forget to make sure there is a battery-powered alarm system in the facility in case there is no electricity during an emergency.
Also put someone in charge of and post an emergency evacuation plan (for instance, in most facilities it is advised to not take elevators but to use stairways instead). As part of this plan, businesses should know how many employees work inside their facility on a daily basis. While this number can vary from day to day and during certain times of the day, maintaining a list of employees helps administrators make sure that everyone has been accounted for, whether they have been moved to a secure area or evacuated from the building.
Even with all these steps in place, there is always the possibility that building occupants will suffer injuries due to an emergency situation. Having an effective, “first responder” first-aid kit on hand is essential to making sure these injuries are attended to quickly and properly.
A “first responder” is typically someone with special training whose job it is to be the first person on-site to respond to various emergencies. However, in some cases, designated building management staff may be called upon to act like a first responder until these professionals to arrive. While these designated building management staff should not undertake emergency medical procedures that they are not trained to do, there are interim steps they can take to help deal with an emergency situation.
In order to do so, they will need access to the following items:
- Safety manuals and guidebooks such as those published by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
- First-aid and emergency kits with the capacity to meet the facility’s needs.
- Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) or Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on products included in the first-responder kit.
- An automated external defibrillator (AED), oxygen tank, and gas detector or monitor, as needed.
Do not take selecting emergency first-aid or first-responder equipment lightly. Take the time to research the different products available from different manufacturers. Use quality, not cost, to guide this decision.
Further, it is a good idea to select all emergency tools and equipment from the same vendor. This results in a synergy among the tools, instructions on how to use them, safety data sheets, etc., which will make the job of attending to an emergency easier and quicker.
Make sure the first-responder kit is compact, is designed to be carried easily, and is kept handy so it can be accessed quickly. This may mean having multiple first-responder and first-aid kits throughout a facility.
After purchasing emergency equipment, ensure building management knows how to use the equipment. This may require ongoing training.
As a final note, before re-entering a facility after an emergency, make sure it is safe. Clearance should be provided by building engineers, police, or fire personnel.
While it’s true that emergencies have turned many people into unexpected heroes, it is not enough to depend on an unexpected hero to just materialize in an emergency. Building managers must plan for emergencies, starting with general preparedness considerations, then identifying facility-specific needs and lastly making emergency equipment and manuals available.
Jeffrey Gayer is vice president of product development and marketing for Impact Products, LLC, a manufacturer of professional safety tools, equipment, first aid kits, and protective gear for people in a variety of industries, from cleaning and construction, to building management and food service.