Des Plaines, IL - To help communities and businesses affected by the recent storms resume operations safely, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and its members, occupational safety, health and environmental professionals, offer the following business resumption safety tips.
ASSE President Warren K. Brown, CSP, ARM, CSHM, noted that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for business resumption following a disaster, however, businesses should do a hazard evaluation and assessment performed by a safety and health professional and consider following these suggested tips:
EMERGENCY PLANNING & PROCEDURES: Ensure that there is a clear path of egress for the evacuation of employees, fire extinguishers are operable and that checks for damage and serviceability are made to see if any fire extinguishers were used during the disaster. If damage is found, they should be replaced immediately. Following a disaster a company should review and update its emergency plan. Review and distribute the emergency procedures plan to employees as they return to work. Designate a place for employees to gather once out of the building or a phone number they should call following an emergency so that all can be accounted for and safely. Frequently update the emergency contact list.
EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATIONS: Find out if your employees are safe. If any employees were injured consider assisting them: communicate this with your employees and follow your company emergency action plan. Once you have learned the facts involving any damage your staff or business may have sustained, evaluate the next steps and communicate your plan with your employees, emergency personnel (city, state and federal), and the community you do business in, your customers, vendors and other organizations you work with.
STRUCTURAL SECURITY: Have a qualified professional evaluate the structural integrity of the building or facility.
SAFE ENTRY: Contact the proper government agencies to get approval to resume occupancy of the building. Do not enter a facility or building unless the proper clearances have been attained for everyone's safety.
CLEAN-UP SAFETY: Implement your clean-up and business resumption processes in a safe and healthful manner. Provide training in proper selection and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for your employees and yourself such as eyewear, gloves, and dust mask/respirators for cleaning.
FOLLOWING A FLOOD: After a flood FEMA suggests -- listen for news reports to learn whether the community's water supply is safe to drink; avoid floodwaters which may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage and may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines; avoid moving water; be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded as roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car; stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company; return home or to your business only when authorities indicate it is safe to do so; stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters; use extreme caution when entering buildings as there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations; service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible as damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards; and, clean and disinfect everything that got wet as mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals.
AIR QUALITY ASSESSMENT: Make sure the atmosphere in the workplace environment is tested for asbestos and other chemical/toxic agents. Air quality is a key concern when restarting business operations.
VENTILATION: Have vents checked to assure water heaters and gas furnaces are clear and operable. Dust and debris can stop or impede airflow decreasing its quality and healthfulness. Safely start-up heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which includes prior inspection of power lines before energizing and pressurizing of the systems. Test your systems now after inspection or have a qualified specialist do so. It is suggested that one blow cold air through HVAC systems first, as opposed to warm air, as it can help prevent the growth of mold in duct systems.
INTERIOR, EXTERIOR EXPOSURES: For interior spaces, ensure no wall or ceiling materials are in danger of falling. If such exposures do exist, the work environment is not ready for occupancy. Check for cracked windows and outside building materials, as these could fall onto pedestrians at any time -- now and in the future.
PROTECTION EQUIPMENT: For fire and smoke alarms it is important to assure that these have been cleaned and tested before allowing occupancy of the building. If such systems are wired into other systems ensure that they are still compatible and work in an efficient and effective manner. Thorough inspection of fire-fighting systems such as sprinkler and chemical equipment functions is a must.
ELECTRICAL SAFETY: Have checks made of electrical systems, computer cables and telecommunications' equipment to ensure they are still safe and there is no danger of exposure to electricity. Wiring inspections should be conducted from the outside in to ensure all wiring and connections are not in danger of shorting out due to water damage from rain or fire-fighting efforts.
USE EXISTING FEDERAL GUIDELINES: Utilize existing start-up guidance materials provided by government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), http://www.fema.gov and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), http://www.cdc.gov/niosh .
HEALTH/SANITATION ISSUES: The general facility sanitation systems should be inspected and tested to guard against potential employee exposure to toxic agents. Food sanitation should also be an issue. Any unused food should be discarded. If the workspace has a kitchen, inspect oven hoods and other ventilation devices to ensure they are not clogged and are working efficiently.
OFFICE FURNITURE: Inspect the furniture to ensure it can withstand expected loads and usages. Ensure that binder bins (storage devices screwed or bolted to railing systems on walls and panels) have not become unstable due to water damage. Inspect office equipment to ensure it is level, stable, and cannot tip over.
LIGHTING: Make sure there are adequate illumination levels for employees. Emergency lighting should be checked to ensure it operates and functions in the correct manner.
SOLID/HAZARDOUS WASTE REMOVAL: Broken glass, debris, or other materials with cutting edges should be safely gathered and disposed of immediately. Ensure that such materials can be disposed of before collection to avoid creating even bigger hazards for both employees and the public. Solid waste disposal will be an issue, especially if hazardous waste is involved. Evaluate waste disposal issues prior to beginning clean-up operations to ensure it can be properly disposed of.
POWER CHECKS: If there is no access to electricity on the site, do not use fueled generators or heaters indoors. Ensure that there are no gas and sewer leaks in your facility. You will need to check with your local utilities for information regarding power, gas, water, and sewer usage.
CHECK MAINFRAMES: If your facility has mainframe computer applications - see that lines and cabling for chiller systems are checked to avoid chemical leak out.
MACHINE INSPECTIONS: Inspect the condition of the drain, fill, plumbing, and hydraulic lines on processes and machines. It would be prudent to have plumbing lines evaluated and tested in order to detect any hazardous gases.
SURFACES: Make sure flooring surfaces are acceptable and free from possible slips, trips and falls - the second leading cause of on-the-job deaths in the U.S. ANSI standard A1264 - protection of floor and wall openings is a good starting point.
TRANSPORTATION: If employees will be on the road, check on the condition of the roads, make sure they are safe. For example, downed power lines could be a major hazard. Transportation accidents continue to be the number one cause of on-the-job fatalities in the U.S Although the roadway is not a closed environment and roadway conditions cannot be controlled, employers can take steps to protect their employees by assigning a management team member, such as the occupational safety and health professional, to set and enforce a comprehensive company driver safety policy; enforce mandatory seat belt use; not require workers to drive irregular hours or far beyond their normal work hours or to conduct business on a cell phone while driving; and, developing work schedules that allow employees to follow hours-of-service regulations. Also, adopt a structured vehicle maintenance program and provide vehicles with the highest levels of occupant protection.