Every year, natural disasters affect thousands of workplaces and disrupt millions of lives. Workplaces and homes are damaged or even destroyed and in the worst cases, lives are lost. While we can never be entirely “safe” from a natural disaster, we can be prepared for anything. With the recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the earthquake in Mexico, and wildfires in the U.S. west, it is a perfect time to reflect on necessary precautions to protect our workplaces, our homes, and our families.
Natural disasters come in a variety of forms such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, disease outbreaks and severe winter weather. With each type of disaster, being prepared for the worst and understanding proper response measures is essential in staying safe and maintaining proper health and well-being.
Individuals have the responsibility for their personal property and families, and should always follow emergency instructions from federal, state, and local emergency authorities. Employers are responsible for their workplace and workforce. Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their workers and for providing a healthy and safe workplace. Part of that is preparing for anticipated hazards from major disasters such as hurricanes.
Most organizations already have emergency action plans engrained in their processes, but those that do not should undertake this pivotal step. Employees should be aware and trained on the emergency action plan so they know what to do if and when an emergency occurs. Part of this preparedness will ensure employers and employees have the necessary equipment to remain safe, know where to go, and what to do to keep themselves safe during and post-emergency.
During and immediately after a natural disaster is the prime time for Injuries and illnesses. Employees be aware of the following hazards:
- Electrical hazards from downed power lines or water-related shorts
- Animal and insect related hazards
- Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning from portable generators
- Dangerous materials that have spilled
- Drowning hazards from flood or storm surge
- Fire prevention, and
- Structural safety.
Illnesses are also widespread during these times, particularly when there is standing water after a hurricane or flood event. Some ways to prevent illness are:
- Get medical treatment if you are injured and/or sick,
- Practice good hygiene to avoid illness from bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew,
- Prevent CO poisoning,
- Be aware of infectious diseases,
- Be updated on immunizations, and
- Avoid mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, we can’t control when and where a natural disaster strikes. However, we can plan and be aware of what steps to take to ensure we are as ready as possible.