In a recent Twitter chat on workplace safety for #USAMfgHour, one of the questions we posed to the group was, “When was the last time you had an emergency evacuation or fire drill?” I was not prepared at all for the responses and was quite shocked as sadly they ranged from not at all to Not as often as we should. It was disconcerting to think that employees may not know how to evacuate, respond in an emergency, or where to assemble for a headcount.
I often harp about having drills and the associated training but only because I truly believe there is nothing more critical in any industry than training and drills. They help to improve employees’ skills, keep them current with new trends and equipment, and increase their self-confidence which becomes an added bonus to improving employee retention. Drills are also a great opportunity to share information between management and employees and vice versa on what’s working or not.
As important as that is, it’s even more essential to drill, on not just how employees are to respond to an emergency but that they know what PPE is required and how to properly wear it along with any other equipment that is used during an emergency and that it is fully operational as well. Make sure to drill and check any backup systems too.
Emergencies, disasters, and catastrophes are funny things. They happen when they want to, not when it’s convenient for us and that’s more than enough reason why all shifts especially those off shifts when most of the management is gone, need to be trained and drilled in responding to emergencies. When an emergency happens every second counts when responding and that can make the difference between dying or surviving.
One of the best ways to conduct a drill is to just make it one of your monthly safety meetings during your yearly slow period. This way you can go the whole nine yards including the use of hazmat suits, respirators, and operating the pumps or vent fans. Do it all and make sure it all works. Take notes on who/what goes right and who/what goes wrong. Ask for your employees’ feedback on the drill, in fact, have a quality circle discussion on what they think can be improved. Make changes as needed and the written procedures reflect it and everyone has signed off on the training. I held drills every six months for several reasons. First to keep everyone on their toes, second to improve the team’s response time, and last but not least, would purposely swap out staff at different key responder positions since disasters also don’t know who’s on vacation or a new employee.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, the reality is in addition to training and drilling for liquid spills, gas leaks, or other mechanical issues you also need to have the plan to deal with an active shooter. It’s not a great topic or something I ever had to deal with but you never know if a disgruntled employee or a jilted lover will show up unexpectedly to settle a score. So you need a way to alert workers to shelter and place until law enforcement arrives.
Some of us have “to go” bags or emergency survival kits in our homes for the purpose of giving some added insurance should a disaster hit our area. There is no reason at all why you shouldn’t have one of these in your place of business as well. Depending on your location, in the event of an earthquake, you may be cut off until help can arrive and those supplies would come in very handy. Your safety committee can put it together and maintain it or you can make it a team-building project, either way, don’t delay.
If your company doesn’t hold drills you can always conduct your own during your lunch break. Look and find where the closest emergency exits are, walk the evacuation route and locate the assembly area. Safety is just as much your responsibility as the company’s. Take control of it and don’t become a victim. When you begin a new job, your first job, internship, apprenticeship, or seasonal work for any company and you do not receive any formal training and materials explaining what to do in an emergency, you need to find another job cause this company cares nothing about you and that’s the last place you want to die.
You should never feel unsafe on the job, you can’t be forced to put yourself in danger to do a job. If you find yourself threatened or bullied make an anonymous call to the OSHA HOTLINE 1-800-321-6742 The life you save may be your own.