If you have never had a serious accident in your company headquarters or meeting place, count yourself lucky. In the United States, we live in a litigious society, and if someone is injured while away from home, that injured person may very well file a lawsuit against the company owning or running a building or piece of equipment. Even meeting or event organizers can be at risk. Insurance companies and courts look more kindly on organizations that have a written safety plan. Having a plan in place shows you have considered potential safety hazards, and are doing your best to follow all regulations, educate all participants, and thus prevent an accident.
If you do not have a plan, or if you have one that is poorly written or if nobody in your organization knows a plan exists, you are at greater risk of lawsuit or victims being awarded larger settlements in court. In many situations, such as on building sites, safety plans are mandated by the authorities. In any case, having a written safety plan is always a good idea and knowing the laws that pertain to your work location are a must.
The goals of a safety plan are basically two-fold: to explain the responsibilities of management and employees (including all legal regulations that must be obeyed); and to describe all safety rules that pertain to the site, the activity, and the audience in question.
So what should go into a safety plan? First of all, check federal and local statutes to determine what your legal responsibilities are.
Next, consider the site where you are meeting or doing business. You should always know where to find an accurate blueprint or map in case you or the authorities need one. Then think about all the activities that take normally place on that site and all the people, vehicles, and machinery that may be present, and imagine the accidents that could happen there. Unless you work for Homeland Security or a specialty security firm, you probably do not need to plan for terrorist attacks or aircraft falling out of the sky; your due diligence is simply to address the most common emergency situations for your site. If you are leasing a space for business purposes or even for meetings or other events, be sure to check with the building owner or management to review their safety plan.
Inside any building, you must always consider the possibility of fire. So every safety plan should explain how to evacuate the building, include a map of all exits, and contain an explanation of what should happen in the case of a fire. Will an alarm sound? Will overhead sprinklers come on? Will the fire department automatically be notified by the alarm system, or do you need to specifically assign someone to call them? Are there fire doors that should be closed? The plan should include a diagram marking the location of fire extinguishers as well as instructions on how to use them (or better yet, make sure those instructions are attached to each extinguisher). If you keep different types of fire extinguishers for different types of fires, the safety plan should explain that. Does your organization keep chemicals or pressurized containers that could explode or release noxious gasses during a fire? Be sure to note those, too.
Another situation to consider in a building safety plan is electrical failure. If all the power suddenly goes out, what should people do? Will emergency lights or backup generators automatically come on, or must someone turn them on? Will phones and smoke alarms work? How about security systems? You should provide a plan of what to do in the case of a sudden blackout. You may also need to provide instructions about procedures to follow when the power comes back on. Will machinery and computers require a startup procedure or need to be reset in some way? Do you have mission critical equipment that must not fail in a power outage such as medical devices?
Are you situated in an earthquake zone? If yes, you need to account for that possibility, instructing people to move outside or get under desks and tables if they can’t safely get to doorways. Often earthquakes will cause electrical failures or water and gas leaks, so you need to include instructions on what to do about all those problems, too.
Your type of business or activity will determine other potential dangers that you need to address in a safety plan. Do your personnel work with hazardous chemicals? You need to identify each chemical, state the possible hazards and spell out the appropriate precautions for working with it. (The use of hazardous chemicals generally requires posting MSDS sheets that contain all this information.)
Do your employees or volunteers operate potentially dangerous equipment? Your plan should discuss how to turn each piece of equipment on and off and describe any procedures and warnings needed to work safely with it. These two issues are especially important on any construction site, even if it’s only a small remodel job. Other important issues to address in a safety plan are hazards associated with earthmoving, such as ditch cave-ins or accidentally cutting electrical, gas, or water lines. The way that materials are stored can be hazardous, too – each year workers suffer crush injuries or die after being buried under hundreds of pounds of plasterboard or lumber that slid from a stack.
Is vehicle traffic a safety consideration? For those working on construction sites, it certainly can be. How about pedestrians? You need to consider everything you need to do to keep not only your employees safe, but also any passers-by who may wander through a hazardous area.
Construction sites may also need to deal with noise hazards and issues with dust of all kinds.
If you work in extreme climates, you may need to include instructions for preventing and dealing with hypothermia or heat exhaustion.
Security is another area nobody likes to think about, but all managers and organizers should. What should happen if an armed intruder comes into your area? Of course someone should call the police, but are there also doors that need to be locked or checked? Are there places employees should hide? What do you want an employee to do if she discovers an unlocked door or suspects suspicious activity after normal business hours?
Everyone who is routinely present on your site also needs to know what to do in the case of medical emergency. If you have defibrillators available, make sure everyone knows where they are and how to use them. Do you have first aid kits on hand? Be sure your plan specifies their locations, too.
All staff should know the numbers to call in the case of emergency, as well as what to say. Keep in mind that people often cannot think clearly during an emergency situation. Make sure the emergency number (even if it’s always 9-1-1) and address of your building or site is posted where it can easily be seen (having a quick reference card in every room can help). If there are supervisors or insurance personnel who must be notified, be sure to list their contact information, too.
Creating a safety plan might sound daunting, but you will find all sorts of safety information available on the internet and more in the hands of authorities; you can plug all the appropriate information into your own plan and customize it to fit your particular situation.
You do not need to figure out how to assemble a safety plan from scratch, either. Specialized template packages like Proposal Kits contain instructions, and have pages that have already been formatted for you; all you need to do is fill in the pertinent information for your actual plan. A good Proposal Kit has thousands of templates to fit any situation you might need to describe.
After you’ve created your plan, don’t just file it away in a cabinet. Your employees (or members or volunteers) need to learn about what’s in the plan. You may need to hold periodic training sessions so everyone concerned can learn how to work safely together. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.