4 ways to be sure workers are ready

Do these four things so employees know what to do if an incident occurs, whether it be a catastrophe, disaster, or injury:

  • Remind employees repeatedly about how to respond to an incident.

"Consistent and frequent communications are necessary from the first day of hire," says Karen Mastroianni, RN, MPH, COHN-S, FAAOHN, co-owner and health and safety strategist for Raleigh, NC-based Dimensions in Occupational Health & Safety.

It's not enough to mention protocols and procedures once during employee orientation, since the information is quickly forgotten. "Employees need to be reminded repeatedly on key procedures such as emergency protocols and evacuation procedures," says Mastroianni. She recommends posting signs, sending e-mails, and having managers discuss the procedures in meetings.

  • Establish an Incident Command System as part of the company's emergency action plan.

This system can be structured as an expandable system, so only components needed for a specific incident are applied. "It can range from very minor incidents to a tragic event. But when needed, each module is there and can be enacted," says Mastroianni. "Each employee knows someone is in charge of getting the necessary emergency assistance."

Use all of your skills

Remember three important skills that you have as an occupational health professional: problem solving, communication, and organization. All of these are extremely valuable when it comes to emergency planning, says Mastroianni.

"You truly need to let management know you have these skills. They are skills that other professions don't often possess," she says. "Serve as a consultant to safety and management. Help to coordinate the hazard assessment process, and ensure that all aspects are considered."

In addition, you have your finger on the pulse of employee issues and concerns. "Your perspective and skills are extremely beneficial when planning emergency response to catastrophic situations," says Mastroianni. "You can help identify communication systems, flow, assembly areas, and contact points."

You'll need plans and procedures for catastrophic events as well as individual injury and illness emergencies. "Plan for what equipment would be needed and where, until emergency services arrive on the scene," Mastroianni says. "And even then, plan to provide assistance and comfort injured or frightened employees."

  • Consider all the "what ifs."

This is an important component of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA's) Process Safety Management, says Mastroianni. "Know the potential hazards and plan accordingly," she says.

Often, the focus is on risk loss management, which emphasizes engineering controls. "While this is essential, the [occupational health nurse] brings a more holistic and humanistic perspective. Often, you know things that employees tell you — information often not shared with anyone else," she says. "Since you are outside the process and not so focused on engineering aspects, you bring fresh eyes to assess the situation. "

  • Hold regular practice drills.

When incidents such as emergencies happen, people often just react — and not always in an appropriate way.

An emergency plan with repeated training and practice drills is the best way to teach both employees and management how to react effectively and productively, says Chris Kalina, MBA, MS, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, director of global occupational health programs and services at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. in Chicago. "We have regular emergency medical response drills, so if there is a bad accident in any area, all our employees know now to respond."