Most conversations about safety in the warehouse focus on common workplace safety issues like preventing trip and falls or using tools properly. But what if disaster strikes? Make sure your staff is well prepared to handle a catastrophe.
What Is a Disaster?
It’s important to first identify what could be a disaster. This will depend on the type of business you work in and where your warehouse is located. OSHA suggests brainstorming emergency situations.
Disasters are often unexpected, so it’s important to get creative and foresee less obvious sources of disaster. Get the whole staff involved. Preparedness can be the difference between a scare and a crisis. If you don’t identify what could happen, you won’t be ready when it does.
Are you near a route where hazardous materials are transported? What would happen if there was a toxic spill? Are you in an area where hurricanes take place? Floods? Earthquakes?
Are you prepared for potential warehouse accidents? What would you do if there were a fire? What if there were an explosion? What if someone came into your workspace threatening violence?
Regardless of how big or small your business is, it’s important to address the “What ifs.” In fact, the Red Cross says, “Developing an emergency preparedness plan is one of the most important strategic decisions you will make as a small business owner.”
How Do You Prepare?
There are several precautions that all workplaces should implement:
- An evacuation plan
- A list of emergency contacts
- A procedure to inform employees of an emergency
- A fully stocked first aid kit
- Up-to-date fire extinguishers
- An safe outdoor gathering point
- Designated workers to perform key emergency leadership roles
- A warehouse equipment list of what needs to be shut down
Beyond the basics though, several people on the workforce should contribute to creating protocols that apply to your warehouse’s specific disaster possibilities.
The best way to teach your plan is to role play. Remember all those elementary school fire drills? It’s important to have a warehouse safety manual that addresses disasters, but that isn’t enough.
Your staff should regularly participate in emergency drills, and everyone should treat these drills like the real thing. And, like the real thing, it’s important that you periodically surprise your workforce with these drills.
Emergencies require that people act quickly. Every second counts. Time wasted can result in a bad situation becoming much worse very quickly. During an emergency, those who are aren’t following protocol to the letter can put others in danger.
Do you get frequent visitors? Do you have any disabled workers or anyone who may need extra assistance? Designate staff to help these individuals.
The more realistic your drills, the better. Where you can’t simulate circumstances—like the smoke and heat of a fire—remind people what the scene might look like. In a fire, for instance, visibility may be poor and it may be hard to breath. Work some unexpected circumstances into your drills, and have your team figure out how to handle them.
Drills are also a good time to test your alert systems like alarms and PA systems. Workers need to know what your alert system sounds like.
It’s also important that all employees know the entire building. Periodically walk the space with your workforce and point out safety features throughout. Where are the emergency exits? The fire extinguishers? The AED kits?
Keep Your Emergency Plan Fresh and Alive
Your work environment is always changing. Also, different times of year will present different types of potential emergencies. Frequently assess your emergency plan and make changes as needed.
Several workers should focus on emergency preparedness often and unearth new disaster scenarios. The possibilities of what can go wrong are endless.
To keep your entire staff emergency prepared, include emergency awareness in regular rotation in your safety moments. It can be something as simple as asking that every employee identify where their nearest fire extinguisher is. This helps to keep staff emergency minded.
Remember, complacency is the single biggest contributor to being poorly prepared.
Lifesaving Skills to Maintain Safety in the Warehouse
It’s critical that several if not all of your workers are trained in CPR and know how to use an AED, and that they have basic first aid skills.
Provide incentives for those who are willing to do this training. Consider hiring an instructor to come to your workspace and conduct training there. If not everyone on staff is certified, be sure that everyone knows who is. It’s critical that people know who to call on when these skills are needed.
When doing drills, be sure to create scenarios that require CPR/AED-certified workers to practice “saving” co-workers. It’s excellent to get your certification, but if you don’t practice, you’re likely to forget all of the details of lifesaving or how to deal with someone who’s injured. Also, emergency situations are often chaotic, which can cause panic. People who are confident in their emergency procedures are more likely to stay calm and get the job done.
This short video gives a summary of tips to make sure your business is prepared:
Being Prepared Is the Only Way to Stay Safe
When it comes to disasters, there is no chance of a proper response if you and your staff aren’t well trained. Further, poorly prepared staff will likely make a disaster worse. They may create unnecessary property damage, and the surrounding community may suffer from this lack of preparation as well.
It is critical then, when planning for safety in the warehouse, that you include emergency preparedness.