Workplace Hurricane Preparedness & Response

Workplace Hurricane Preparedness & Response

As category four Hurricane Florence makes its approach to the eastern coast of the United States, it is important to start thinking about how to best protect your workers and workplace from severe weather. Hurricanes bring wind speeds of 74 miles per hour or higher and storm surges on the coast resulting in damaging and life-threatening floods. It is important to follow local authority orders, but also important to know how to prepare and respond to severe weather in the workplace.

Being prepared for severe weather can greatly affect your business' outcome in the event of a disaster. Evacuation plans help workers get to safety if a hurricane may affect the area. Thorough evacuation plans include, but are not limited to:

  1. Conditions that will activate the plan, such as fires or severe weather
  2. Emergency contacts such as management and key responders
  3. Emergency functions and an outline of who will perform them
  4. Specific evacuation procedures, including routes of exit from the workplace or job site
  5. Procedures for accounting for personnel, contractors, and other workers
  6. Equipment for personnel

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) explains that some businesses are required to have an Emergency Action Plan that meets requirements of federal regulation 29 CFR 1910.38. In addition to having this plan in place, employers should familiarize themselves and their workers with local or facility warning signals user for hurricanes. This includes local community emergency signals, warning alarms, and what shelters are available. Always follow instructions from local authorities and evacuate the area if instructed to do so.

Category four hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage. Well-built framed workplaces can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Trees can easily be broken or uprooted, and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power lines can potentially isolate areas of communities and power outages can last for months.

With this in mind, it is important to think about your workplace vulnerabilities. Ask yourself if some potential objects and equipment can be brought indoors or secured with straps to permanent fixtures. Also, consider the time that is needed for evacuation while still allowing for preparations to be made. Employers whose workers will be involved in emergency response operations for the release of hazardous chemicals will need to ensure they comply with OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard, 29 CFR 1910.120.

After the storm has passed, recovery workers face new challenges. Buildings and job sites may experience structural instability. There may be limited access to areas and once stable Walking Working Surfaces may be compromised. Downed power lines and live electrical equipment pose serious hazards for those working in the area. Ensure competent people are able to identify these hazards, such as local utility workers. Asbestos, Lead, and other potentially hazardous materials may be exposed due to the storm. Workers required to remove such materials must be trained and protected from the hazards associated with them.

For more information on how to prepare and respond to severe weather and hurricanes, use the following resources:

OSHA Hurricane eMatrix

HAZWOPER Standard

Emergency Action Plan Standard

Ready.gov - Hurricanes

Ready.gov - Shelter

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Jason Kelts is the Director of Communications @ Appruv.

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