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Hurricanes – Evaluation, Evacuation, and Recovery Plans

- October 20, 2017 by Mike Pettit (View all posts by Mike)

As recently witnessed with hurricanes Harvey and Irma, hurricanes involve catastrophic winds and rain, which cause considerable disruption and damage before, during, and after these storms. This blog will discuss what to do at each stage.

Before the Storm

One way to assist in protecting employees and property is to evaluate the worksite to identify any potential safety and/or health hazards before a storm is anticipated. You should inspect the property for comprised and/or damaged structures, items that could become projectiles, damaged or dying trees, ineffective drainage systems, unsafe chemical containment, etc.

When potential concerns are identified during the inspection process, proactive completion of the appropriate repairs, removal of dangerous trees, etc. should be prioritized.

Another way to assist in protecting employees and property before a storm is to establish an evacuation plan, which would need to include the days leading up to a hurricane and allow sufficient time for everyone to evacuate the area. To assist in keeping high winds from getting inside buildings, the last to leave should make sure all doors and windows are closed and secured, including those within the building.

Unfortunately, when hurricanes happen we often hear about those needing to be rescued, and those who could not. When the National Weather Service and government agencies advise evacuation, best practice is to heed the advice and leave. No property is more valuable than a life – buildings can be replaced, people cannot.

During the Storm

One way to assist in protecting employees and property during a hurricane is to remain out of the area until local authorities provide the “all clear” to return.

The evacuation plan would also need to include a way of maintaining consistent communications with all employees to make sure no one is under the impression they are expected to return to work before it is safe to do so.

We often hear about those who check on their property or return to work when they believe “the worst is over,” only to be caught in the storm with no chance for rescue, being electrocuted by downed power lines in standing water, etc.

After the Storm

Once the “all clear” to return has been issued, the owner of the property and/or professional engineer should first inspect the buildings from the outside to identify any potential post-storm safety hazards such as structural damage.

Note – In the event a building used to contain hazardous chemicals appears to have any damage, the local fire department should be contacted to perform the initial inspection prior to entry by any worker.

Once it is determined safe to enter the buildings, the interior structural components should then be inspected, and then the equipment, storage racks, etc. – basically, anything that could potentially collapse and/or fall onto workers should be inspected.

When clean up involving building debris is required, it is best practice to have a licensed and insured contractor complete the efforts, as they have the equipment specifically designed and capable of safely handling damaged metal, wood, glass, etc. This should also be completed prior to employees returning to the worksite.

While performing final clean-up efforts, all those involved should be furnished and required to wear the appropriate forms of personal protective equipment. Eye protection should be worn at all times, cut-resistant gloves should be worn while handling any sharp and/or jagged materials, dust masks should be worn in dirty and/or dusty environments, etc.

When power has yet to be restored following a storm, temporary power from generators is common practice. When generators are used, they should only be used in open, well-ventilated areas due to the hazards associated with carbon monoxide.

Hopefully, you will never experience a hurricane in your area. However, if you carefully plan for a hurricane and one is experienced, following your established evaluation, evacuation, and recovery plan could assist you in preventing a tragedy at your workplace.

 
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