While caring for residents is top priority, your workers need support, guidance, resources when a fire hits. With a little effort, you can have a big impact.
As wildfires rage in northern California, you may think that you’re immune. However, accidents, industrial explosions, and other disasters could contribute to dangerous, life-threatening blazes anywhere. You have plans in place to ensure the safety of residents, but be sure to take some steps to help your employees through a fire disaster.
Even before the fire hits, it can have tremendous implications. For instance, communication can become difficult or impossible as power is cut. Be sure to have plenty of batteries, and be prepared to count on some low-tech tools such as portable or ham radios and walkie-talkies. Make sure employees know how to communicate with managers and others if they are unable to come to work or need help or information.
Wi-Fi may be down, which means you won’t have access to electronic health records and other information. Have a plan in place for how you will handle this in a way that protects privacy while ensuring that information is documented and shared as necessary.
Especially when winds are high, smoke can cause problems ahead of fires. Smoke can be a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other materials. Not only can this irritate eyes and throats, it can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory illnesses and cause chest pains, shortness of breath, and headaches. Have a supply of “N95” masks on hand to offer some protection. Note that paper “comfort” or “dust” masks will not protect your lungs from smoke.
Some other tips:
- Pay attention to local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index. Be alert to public health messages about taking additional safety measures.
- Determine in advance how you will use social media to share information and communicate with staff and others.
- Advise employees to stay indoors, and keep windows and doors closed. Run air conditioners if necessary, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
- Make sure no one adds to indoor pollution. For instance, use flashlights instead of candles if the power goes off. Consider “bagging” rooves to make buildings as airtight as possible.
- Encourage employees to have a go-bag for emergency situations. If possible, keep a dozen or so of these on hand (filled with toiletries, bottled water, a first-aid kit, antibacterial wipes, and other items).
- Post a list of area shelters, motels, hotels, and kennels on breakroom bulletin boards and other locations. Consider working with one or two hotels and a pet boarding facility to arrange discounts for your employees who are forced to evacuate their homes because of a fire or other disaster.
In the aftermath, make sure employees have access to employee assistance programs (EAPs). Consider bringing in insurance experts to help employees with claims and settlements regarding their homes and personal property. Have a plan for other ways you will help workers affected by the fires, such as disaster funds or food/clothing drives.
Check out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for some helpful resources.