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Six steps to creating an emergency response plan

Six steps to creating an emergency response plan

Workplace accidents can happen in any business, no matter how well you are prepared. In terms of accidents alone, there are around 12 serious injury compensation claims per 1000 employees every year in Australia. You can never prevent every injury, but an emergency response plan can help keep employees safe, minimise cost and damage, and help you maintain business continuity.

The main purpose of an emergency response plan is to safeguard your employees. You want to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of what to do and where to go if there’s a workplace event or emergency. The three priorities when creating your emergency response plan are employee safety, business continuity and the recovery process.

Safety is your responsibility

As a business owner, you have a legal and moral responsibility to maintain the safety of your employees and their families, as well as your customers when they visit your business. Having a documented process to follow in the event of workplace accidents can make it simpler to meet these obligations. A rigorous emergency response plan could help you minimise injury, damage and even fatalities in the event of a major incident. It could also help you avoid litigation and fines for non‑compliance with regulation, while maintaining a positive image for your business.

Business continuity is critical

Time is money. If you aren’t able to get up and running after an incident because you weren’t prepared, the loss of business could be catastrophic. Whether it involves temporary offices or replacement staff, your emergency response strategy should account for business continuity. It’s also worth considering taking out business interruption insurance, which could help you manage any costs you incur if an incident stops you trading for a while after an incident.

I recently read about a company that lost a server due to water damage. Diligent off-site backups meant they only lost data up to a certain period, and were able to get back up and running quite quickly.

Every business works differently and these differences will affect which elements you need to consider when creating an emergency response plan. For example, you might have an on-site server while a neighbouring business keeps its data in the cloud. Clearly if there’s a fire, the on-site server is going to be affected. But if the company next door has backed up properly, it may recover more easily.

Anticipating the recovery process

In addition to your business data, you need to consider your equipment and how your suppliers will support you.

If you have machinery that may need fixing after a workplace incident, who does that and where are they? If your business manufactures gadgets, and your production equipment only comes from the UK, how quickly can you fix it or get a new one shipped if it’s lost in a flood? Should you have an emergency generator so you can keep production going during a blackout?

You need to think laterally about what you really need to keep running so you can plan contingency measures.

Creating your emergency response plan

Here are six steps to take when setting up your strategy:

1. Conduct a risk assessment

Survey your business, consider the possible worst-case scenarios and identify what you need to ensure people can get out quickly in each instance. Where are the exits? Are there fire doors? Are emergency exits blocked? Are staff aware of an evacuation plan and assembly points? Make sure you do a risk assessment on a ‘normal’ day, so people don’t prepare in advance and create a false impression of their ability to respond.

2. Revise regulatory obligations

Your regulatory obligations may vary from state to state or from industry to industry. Safe Work Australia is a government site that can be a useful start. Get your legal department or lawyer to take a look as well, so you can be confident you are compliant. Remember that you need to notify regulators of serious incidents.

3. Identify ways to mitigate risk

It may be worth hiring an external risk specialist, such as a professional occupational health and safety assessor. They can also help you determine which resources you might need to respond to potential events, such as first-aid equipment or firefighting materials. It is also a good idea to review your insurance policies regularly to make sure you are covered for significant workplace risks.

4. Plan evacuation procedures

Have a clear, written plan for evacuation, and post it in a prominent place in every department (ideally laminated for longevity). Include maps that show where exits are, and make sure employees understand them. Also plan sheltering procedures (where will your staff go if the premises are unsafe?), as well as lockdown procedures. Don’t forget to make new hires aware of the plan.

5. Identify business continuity priorities

A flood or fire could drive you out of your office for weeks or months. Employee injury could also see you short of skilled staff for long periods. From backup servers to remote access for employees, ensure you have a contingency plan for running the business after a major incident.

6. Train staff for emergencies

As well as training your staff in workplace health and safety, you might benefit from appointing specific employees as emergency response leaders. In our business, we’ve had two people attend St John Ambulance courses. This certifies them in first aid and has made them and everyone else feel more confident about the business’s preparedness to look after employees.

Finally, you need to rehearse your plan. Have fire drills at least annually, preferably with surprise ones as well as scheduled ones. Record the results as part of your safety and evacuation plan. This can sometimes reveal major issues, such as locked fire doors or a tendency for workers to use the lift to leave the building.

Once you have a plan you feel works and your workers understand, both you and they – as well as your insurers and lawyers – can feel a lot more confident that you’ll weather whatever storms may lie ahead.

Creating an emergency response plan is only the first step – you need to make sure your workers can understand and apply it to situations. For more information, learn how to implement workplace safety training.

Troy Hams is the General Insurance Manager at Provident Insurance Services in Perth, WA and specialises in managing insurance portfolios for small to medium businesses.
Troy has been has been working in the General Insurance industry since 1985 and with Provident since 1999. He is an Authorised Representative of Resilium and of Ausure Pty Ltd and is a Senior Associate of the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance.

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