Disaster Response in the Workplace

It’s 4:15pm in mid December and a 7.1 magnitude earthquake strikes the Hayward Fault in California. Powerlines and cell phone towers are down leaving thousands without the ability to communicate to emergency response personnel or family. Roadways are damaged leaving thousands unable to get home or find safe refuge. It will be dark soon with the temperature dropping, maybe even rain. Buildings are damaged making it  unclear if your building is safe to reenter with the possibility of aftershocks of great concern. The professional response system is overwhelmed and help may not arrive for days. You have 1000 employees at your workplace looking to your company for food, water, sanitation, medical care and shelter. Are you prepared to handle this type of disaster response in your workplace?

The lack of a well-developed disaster plan may expose an employer to administrative penalties and claims of negligence in the event of a disaster in which employees are injured or killed. OSHA requires employers to have emergency action plans in a wide variety of situations and to communicate the plans to employees. The OSHA regulation on this subject specifies minimum elements of the plan, including procedures for reporting fires or other emergencies, evacuation procedures, procedures to be followed by employees who remain on-site, procedures to be followed for accounting for employees after evacuation, and training of employees. Failure to comply can result in administrative fines. Possible liability claims might arise from the absence of an emergency plan, inadequacy of a plan, and failure to follow the plan.

Many corporations have disaster plans in place with supplies, trained employees and an organizational structure in place to support a mitigation effort. A well-conceived disaster management plan including rehearsal of the plan may help reduce the risk of liability in the event of a disaster. These types of preparations would demonstrate good-faith efforts to comply with legal requirements.

Prepare your workplace for natural or man-made disasters.  Be self-sufficient, promote and support in-house volunteer emergency response teams and have a plan!