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Preparing for Emergency Action

Originally created by the Minnesota Safety Council for publication in the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust publication The Safeguard. Used with permission.

In the course of doing our jobs, unexpected events can occur that might require us to make immediate decisions, the quality of which could determine whether people live or die. Whether people make sound decisions at such times is dependent on preparation, both organizational (in the form of written plans), and mental (by all persons associated with the organization). This article will renew the requirements and principles of emergency preparedness, both employer preparedness in the form of planning and the provision of emergency equipment, and employee preparedness, which can be enhanced by training.

Equipped for an Emergency

Fire extinguishers

Employers must train any employees who have been authorized to use fire extinguishers. If extinguishers are not intended for employee use, and if the employer has an emergency action plan and a fire prevention plan that complies with OSHA requirements, the employer is not required to train employees.

If fire extinguisher training is required, it must be performed annually after an initial training. The employees must be familiarized with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with their use. Employees should be warned that they should only extinguish small, incipient fires that do not threaten their health.

Eye washes and showers

Eye washes and/or showers are required by OSHA when there is a risk of chemical injury to eyes and/or skin. Generally strong acids and alkalis are very damaging to the eyes and skin. A material with a pH of less-than-or-equal-to two, or greater-than-or-equal-to eleven can be very damaging to eyes, and an eyewash should be readily available. A material with a pH of less-than-or-equal-to one, or greater-than-or-equal-to 12 can be very damaging to skin, and a shower should also be available. These are very general guidelines; situations should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Other chemicals besides acids and alkalis may be damaging to eyes and skin. Be sure to check your individual chemicals' material safety data sheets for eye and skin hazard warnings, or check with the manufacturer.

Employees should be informed about the hazards of such chemicals, and the proper use and locations of eyewash and shower stations. This is typically done during employee right-to-know training.

Ready to Respond

First Aid/CPR

Emergence medical care may be needed by employees in the workplace. While in the course of employment, an employee may encounter a situation that gives rise to their assisting at the scene of an accident or emergency. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. Sec. 604A.01, an individual at the scene of an emergency has an obligation to provide reasonable assistance to an injured person and/or person exposed to an injury. Reasonable assistance can include obtaining or attempting to obtain emergency medical and law enforcement personnel. Failure to provide assistance can result in a conviction of a petty misdemeanor.

This statute also provides general immunity form liability for persons providing assistance at the scene of an emergency. Minn Stat. Sec. 604A.01, Sub.2 Provides:

A person who, without compensation or the expectation of compensation, renders emergency care, advice, or assistance at the scene of an emergency or during transit to a location where professional medical care can be rendered is not liable for any civic damages as a result of acts or omissions by that person in rendering the emergency care, advice or assistance, unless the person acts in a willful and wanton or reckless manner in providing the care, advice or assistance...

Immunity is not available for emergency medical personnel receiving compensation for providing medical care, advice or assistance during the course of regular employment.

Emergency Action Plans

Employers should have plans to address emergencies that might require medical care, evacuations, or a need to take shelter. A chain of command should be in place to help ensure an orderly response.

Medical emergencies

Employers should have a procedure, which should be communicated to employees, about how to address medical emergencies. Employees should know who to contact for first aid care and the procedure for calling an ambulance. Any time 911 is called, the employee who calls must be sure that the 911 operator has all necessary information before hanging up.

First, workers should protect themselves from danger when trying to help a co-worker. People can be severely injured while trying to rescue others, for instance if the rescue involves electrical hazards, confined spaces, fires, or chemicals.

If a chemical is involved in an injury, it is important that ambulance personnel receive a copy of the material safety data sheet of the chemical involved.

Evacuation

Your evacuation part of the plan should include:
  • escape procedures
  • a system to account for all persons
  • a procedure for employees who may have to stay in a building temporarily during an evacuation - rescue and medical duties
  • means for reporting fires and other emergencies, and
  • names and titles of persons who can give further information about the plan.
Employees should know which persons are authorized to sound evacuation alarms, and those persons must know when and how to activate them.

Take shelter from tornadoes

Some employers designate "take-shelter" areas to be used when there is a threat of a tornado. Since tornadoes can approach very quickly, employees might not have time to reach a designated area; they may need to find a safe area immediately. Most importantly, they should get inside. They should stay away from outside windows and stacked materials that could fall on them. The safest areas of buildings are generally small rooms without outside windows. A center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest floor are good possibilities. Getting under something like a desk may also provide some protection from falling objects.

To prepare for a tornado, the National Safety Council (NSC) recommends that employers put together an emergency kit that includes a first aid kit, canned food and opener, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and extra batteries, and written instructions for turning off gas, water and electricity if authorities suggest doing so.

MCIT also recommends keeping a weather alert radio where someone can monitor storm watches and warnings.

Other Emergencies

Prudent employers are also prepared for threats of violence, bomb threats, and chemical emergencies, and how to communicate with the media during an emergency. Employees who have not been thoroughly trained should not risk their health by responding to hazardous chemical spills, but should report them to someone who can call trained responders. Often small employers have agreements with companies that specialize in safely responding to chemical spills.

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