Employers should never take the threat of a storm lightly. Workers should be provided with the right equipment and training before, during and after a storm. With the Atlantic hurricane season continuing through the end of November, it’s important to take all steps necessary to protect workers.
Protecting workers starts by making sure they stay out of harm’s way. An evacuation plan should be implemented that outlines when, how and what actions will be taken.
It might include:
- Conditions that will activate the plan.
- Chain of command.
- Emergency functions and who will perform them.
- Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits.
- Communication plan, and procedures for accounting for personnel, customers and visitors.
It’s also important to with work local emergency and other officials to get the very latest information, and be ready to heed instructions from local authorities.
Understand The Terminology
A hurricane or tropical storm ‘watch’ means such a storm is possible; a ‘warning’ means it is expected to strike the area, usually within 24 hours. At the first signs of a storm — the ‘watch’ — initial preparations should be undertaken.
It’s also important to understand the extent of damage that an impending storm could do. Widespread flooding and wind damage can occur. Hurricanes are categorized into 5 groups:
- Category 1. Winds of 74 – 95 mph are expected, which snap large branches and topple shallowly-rooted trees. Buildings that are well constructed could have damage to roofs, siding and gutters. Power lines can be damaged or downed, creating a potentially disastrous situation. Power outages lasting from hours to weeks are possible and must be taken into account.
- Category 2. These 96 – 110 winds are extremely dangerous and cause extensive damage. In addition to downed trees and damaged buildings. Near total power loss is expected.
- Category 3. Winds of 111 – 129 mph can cause devastating damage. In addition, both electricity and water may become unavailable for days or weeks.
- Category 4. 130 – 156 mph winds are catastrophic, with severe damage to roof structures and some exterior walls. Power outages can last from weeks to months and areas hit may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
- Category 5. With winds of over 157 mph buildings are destroyed, trees and power lines are downed, and most areas affected are uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Post Storm Strategy
Hard hats, safety glasses, work gloves, fall protection and steel toed and waterproof boots may be necessary for cleanup efforts and should be purchased before a storm. There are many potential dangers facing workers after a hurricane. Here are several of the most common and how employers can mitigate their risks.
- Contaminated water. Bacteria, toxic substances and mold or fungi could be present in flooded areas. Workers should be trained to assume flood waters are contaminated and only those with the proper protective apparatus should be allowed to clean up these areas. The use of approved disposable respirators should be included. Materials that have obvious water damage and contamination should be discarded. Clean water should be available for workers to drink and use for hand washing.
- Damaged/downed power lines. Workers who are expected to cut and remove tree limbs can easily come in contact with power lines, causing them burns or electrocutions. They can also be injured from falling branches or trees, or from removal equipment, unless properly trained. Workers should be trained to assume all power lines are live or energized and these areas should be clearly marked as danger zones where debris may fall on workers. Employees should also be instructed to remain at least 10 feet away from downed lines. The utility company should be contacted to deenergize power lines. Workers should be provided with PPE and trained to protect themselves from injuries caused by using equipment with which they are unfamiliar.
- Portable generators. Electrical shocks and electrocution from gas and diesel power generators can occur, especially to the inadequately trained worker. Carbon monoxide exhaust can harm a worker, along with fires caused by improperly refueling. Workers expected to handle generators should be trained to avoid using one inside an enclosed space. There should be proper ventilation in the area where they will be used. Employees should inspect all electrical cords for defects, and use a ground-fault circuit interrupter. And they should shut down the generator before refueling.
- Construction activities. Demolition of structures, such as sheds or other facilities may expose workers to asbestos contaminated materials. Confined spaces with limited access present suffocation hazards. Cave-in are a risk in unsecured buildings. And there is the risk of musculoskeletal injuries from lifting and handling building materials and debris. Appropriate PPE should be provided and may include respirators. Confined spaces with permits required for entering should be off limits to any worker who is not properly trained and/or does not have a permit. Cave-ins can be prevented by benching, sloping, shoring or shielding the soil. Proper lifting techniques should be employed. Bulky and heavy items should be moved by two-person teams.
The debate over climate change and its potential effects on recent storms notwithstanding, the 2017 hurricane season has been one of the worst on record. With several weeks left, employers with facilities in potentially affected areas need to make sure they do everything possible to protect the safety of their workers.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center. .
Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/
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