Disaster Preparedness: Preventing Employee Injury / Illness

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Submitted by Public Risk Underwriters of Florida, Inc. - Safety & Risk Management Department

Florida’s hurricane season exposes employees to an increased risk of injury and illness. More specifically, injuries are likely to occur in advance of the storm during emergency preparations, during the storm for those employees required to go into the storm such as First Responders as well as for those employees exposed to post hurricane activities.

HURRICANE PREPARATION

A means of reducing storm related injury/illness during emergency preparations can be obtained by implementing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) require employers with more than 10 employees to develop and implement an Emergency Action Plan. The EAP should be developed to identify and coordinate necessary employer and employee actions during an emergency such as a hurricane. In addition, in order for the EAP to be effective employees need to be trained to better understand their roles and responsibilities under the plan. At a minimum the EAP must include the following elements:

RESPONDING DURING AN EMERGENCY

While most employees can stay inside during a hurricane, some employees are required to go into the storm. This may include utility workers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters and emergency response medical personnel, sanitation and public works employees. Some of the typical workplace safety hazards employees would be exposed to during a hurricane include the following:

   • Electrical hazards from downed power lines or downed objects in contact with power lines

   • Burns from fires caused by energized line contact or equipment failure

   • Falling and flying objects such as tree limbs and utility poles

   • Hazardous driving conditions due to slippery roadways

   • Slips and falls due to slippery walking/working surfaces

   • Exhaustion from working extended shifts

   • Falls from heights

   • Dehydration

   • Heat Stress

   • Musculoskeletal Hazards

   • Waterborne Diseases

Once the proverbial dust settles after a hurricane, hazards to employees still remain. Hazards are even greater for employees who are tasked with cleaning up after the storm and can expect to be exposed to the following hazards:

   • Exposure to hazardous chemicals or mold

   • Downed power lines and trees

   • Heat Illness

   • Confined Spaces

   • Blood-borne diseases or other contagions

   • Mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika virus

   • Structural Destabilization

   • Tree Removal / Chain Saws

   • Exhaustion from working extended shifts

In all cases it is incumbent upon employers to ensure employees exposed to the hazards referenced are provided with appropriate training, proper tools and equipment as well as personal protective equipment to reduce and/or eliminate workplace injuries / illness during Florida’s hurricane season.

For additional information and assistance regarding emergency preparedness, please feel free to contact your Preferred Loss Control Consultant.