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6 steps to climate-proof your business' emergency preparedness plan

6 steps to climate-proof your business' emergency preparedness plan

A dramatic surge in the size, scope, and unpredictability of extreme weather events around the globe makes including them in your emergency preparedness essential, says Pam Patry, WSPS’ Acting Pandemic Program Lead Field Operations.

In the past eight months alone, Canada has experienced

  • 6 EF-2 strength tornadoes in Ontario - the strongest in 36 years
  • 151 forest fires in Northern Ontario, triple the size of the province’s 10-year average
  • long-lasting, atypical heat waves in BC, killing hundreds
  • 1,529 wildfires across the country

Even if your workplace may not be vulnerable to a forest fire or tornado, it may be at risk for catastrophic flooding, extreme temperatures, or severe wind, snow or ice storms. Increasingly these crises arrive with little notice. If your emergency preparedness plans don't take all this into account, will you be able to ensure your employees' safety?

Pam outlines six steps to follow as you adapt your existing emergency plan to include extreme weather events.

1. Determine your weather-related risks. Assemble a team to identify and assess weather-related risks. Include your emergency coordinator and joint health and safety committee. "It's very important to know the climate and environment around you,” says Pam. Are you on a flood plain? In an area susceptible to freezing temperatures or tornadoes? As you put your list together, bear in mind that wild weather can occur even when and where it's least expected.

2. Assess the potential impact of bad weather, and the hazards to employees. A weather event may have broad implications. Could a tornado trigger a building collapse, fire or chemical release? Could a forest fire or ice storm cut off evacuation routes? Consider potential hazards to employees that could result from extreme weather (e.g., smoke inhalation or other respiratory hazards, being stranded, physical injuries, etc.).

3. Apply these measures:

  • Establish and communicate safe practices for each scenario (e.g. staying away from doors and windows in a tornado), and controls for managers (e.g. sending employees home early if a storm is imminent). Establish processes for dealing with the bigger consequences you have identified.
  • Identify a safe place at work for employees to shelter. "Engage your local fire or emergency planning services to help identify safe locations," suggests Pam.
  • Update your evacuation plan. Are routes clearly identified? Unobstructed? Have you assigned staff to help colleagues with language, mobility or vision impairments to exit the workplace safely?
  • Determine where people should gather for a head count. During an emergency you should know where everyone is at any given time.
  • Equip staff who are on the road with emergency kits and two-way radios.

4. Stay alert, and ensure you have multiple ways to communicate with employees. Stay on top of the weather. "Weather apps are great for this," says Pam. "Alerts can be sent to the coordinator’s phone in the event of a severe weather warning." Follow public health advice. Determine in advance ways to communicate with employees in the workplace, satellite locations, on the road, or working from home. How will you broadcast a message that a heatwave or a tornado is coming, and what action employees should take?

5. Train staff. Ensure first aid training is up to date, and train other members of the emergency team who have specific roles, such as guiding people out of the building. Also train backups. "If your emergency personnel are working at home because of COVID-19, who will fulfill that role in the workplace," asks Pam. Train all employees on your updated emergency response plan, including evacuation and shelter in-place plans.

6. Ensure your plan works. "Practice just like you would a fire drill," says Pam. "Then make improvements as needed."

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