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Disaster Preparedness: What Contractors Need to Know to Prepare an Emergency Response Plan

In construction, it isn’t a matter of if, but when disaster will strike. Too often contractors do not focus on emergency preparedness until after disaster strikes. Whether manmade or natural, the impact that a catastrophic event can have on the safety of employees and health of the business can be devastating.

Several emergency situations, such as severe weather, fire or a hurricane, can severely disrupt business operations. Without an emergency action plan in place to handle unforeseen disasters, contractors run the risk of exposing their company to liability and damaging the business’s reputation. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, one in four businesses never reopen after a natural disaster.

PLAN, DON’T PANIC

Few individuals can think clearly and logically when crisis hits. Unexpected emergencies can trigger panic, which can lead to confusion, injuries and even death. Although it may be impossible to protect the business entirely from a sudden catastrophic event, there are steps to take to help reduce the damaging impact on employees and the company.

Despite the complexity and the daily challenges that are unique to the construction industry, it is not difficult to develop a disaster preparedness plan. No one can predict the magnitude or timing of a disastrous event, however, with adequate preparation serious situations can be prevented from getting worse.

OSHA offers guidelines and resources to assist businesses in developing emergency preparedness plans. Please note, this is not a comprehensive guide and only provides an overview.

Here are six steps to follow to help prepare a solid disaster preparedness plan.

  1. Identify Worst-Case Scenarios. What is the worst thing that could happen on a jobsite? Is the region prone to earthquakes or fires? Are there hazardous chemicals that could potentially spill and cause serious injuries? Once worst-case scenarios have been identified, the next step is to plan how employees will respond to every type of unexpected emergency.
  2. Prepare an Emergency Plan. An emergency action plan assigns actions to designated individuals. OSHA suggests that managers and employees be included during the planning phase. They could offer valuable insights into what and where potential hazards and emergencies can occur. This is also where the communications and responsibilities plans should be established.
  3. Disaster Preparedness Training. The more employees are educated about potential disasters and trained on disaster protocols, from evacuation processes to proper use of emergency equipment, the more equipped they will be to effectively handle an emergency situation. Training should be followed up with practice drills to keep everyone prepared and up to date.
  4. Update Emergency Plan. In the construction industry one thing is always consistent, and that is that workplace changes are a daily occurrence. New hires, the introduction of new materials and equipment and the constantly changing layout of a construction site requires management to revisit the disaster preparedness plan as needed. It’s important that this be done for every active project.
  5. Protect Data. The safety and wellbeing of employees should always be the top priority. Don’t overlook the importance of having a protection plan for project records. Many construction jobsites house a mountain of documents from specifications and contracts to permits in physical files which can easily be destroyed in the event of a disaster. Electronic records stored on a company’s computers are just as susceptible to damage. Look at what vital data is stored on location that could become a potential liability if destroyed. Having a cloud-based solution protects critical documentation and allows access to valuable data from anywhere, at any time.
  6. Proper Insurance Coverage. The $20 million lawsuit by the city of Los Angeles against the developer of a downtown apartment project underscores the need for appropriate insurance coverage and limits. The city claimed the developer’s alleged negligence was responsible for the damage caused by a massive 2014 fire which destroyed the seven-story complex and caused millions of dollars in damage to nearby city properties.

No insurance plan can entirely protect a contractor, but loss prevention is an absolute necessity to ensure that if a loss does happen, the contractor is covered to the maximum extent possible.

By their very nature, disasters are unpredictable. But with proper planning it is possible to recover from such unforeseen events.

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