The human element of disaster management – protecting lone workers

While we can plan and prepare for the practical side of disaster recovery, the ‘What if…?’ scenarios around our team members’ safety in the event of a terror attack or natural disaster are somewhat harder to address and, of course, highly emotive.

Following last November’s terror attacks in Paris and other equally upsetting incidents around the world, we are all on high alert with regards to personal safety. While it remains statistically unlikely that you or your staff will be affected by terrorism – statistics put the chances of being killed in a terror attack at around one in 20 million – the perceived risk by individuals in the current climate is high. The fall-out of a full-scale emergency, however unlikely one might be, could turn the situation into a catastrophe.

As an employer, it’s important to plan how to manage your employees’ safety in the event of a disaster. You also need to be seen to be doing so by your employees in order to help lessen their fears.

What can you do, then, when it comes to planning and communicating an effective human disaster management plan for your members of staff?

Identifying risk

A disaster refers to any large-scale event that harms your employees, business environment or property. The risks you face as a business could vary greatly depending on the nature of the company and its geographical location. It’s important to identify and plan for any risk you think could cause an emergency situation.

Although we’ve been focusing here on large-scale attacks like terrorism, there are other threats to the workforce which can be assessed within the same policy (including fires, natural disasters and chemical spills).

In the event of a disaster scenario, it’s crucial that all employees are aware of what’s required of them to prevent panic and create a safer environment. A clear and easy-to-understand disaster management policy will help employees understand their roles during an emergency.

In some cases, it may even be necessary to implement staff training and practice drills, just as you do with fire safety. This could include how to deal with chemical spills or bomb threat evacuation procedures.

The National Counter-Terrorism Security Office issued widespread advice following the Paris attacks, advising the public to ‘Run, Hide and Tell’ in the event of an attack. This practical advice could be shared with employees as part of your training. You can watch a video here:

Locating employees

Whether a disaster occurs in a large office building or at a more remote site, locating your employees and ensuring they’re safe should be a top priority.

If you have a large workforce and/or a substantial geographical spread for the business, this could prove to be both a difficult and time-consuming process. On that basis, it’s important to have a policy in place for locating and checking-in with employees quickly and effectively.

For some businesses, the GPS tracking of vehicles or phones may be the easiest solution.

If you have a workforce which includes a number of lone workers, a more structured system may be required. If your employees work in different locations away from supervision, locating them can be difficult. Consider investing in a lone worker safety device or app that monitors employee safety and location via GPS. This will not only help you to monitor staff safety on a day-to-day basis, but also enable you to assess employees’ safety status immediately in the event of a disaster situation.

Response from the Emergency Services

The next step during an emergency may be to provide help to those who need it. This might mean sending assistance from the Emergency Services such as the police or some form of medical support.

Communication with employees is key in allowing this to happen. By knowing their exact location and situation, the Emergency Services can respond as quickly as possible.

If the Emergency Services are unable to reach an employee, communication lines should be kept open to offer regular updates and briefings. If, for example, an employee is trapped in a building, they should receive regular updates on the latest situation for reassurance.

Communicating your policy

Ensure that staff are fully aware of the procedures they need to follow in the event of a disaster scenario. Consider making the plan part of your staff inductions and include it in the Employee Handbook.

Hold training sessions for staff so they have the opportunity to ask questions and include practical demonstrations – such as live evacuations – where possible to afford employees the opportunity to practice drills.

Ensure that employees know how to use any monitoring devices such as panic buttons, apps and GPS vehicle trackers, and regularly reiterate their importance as a safety device in the event of an emergency.

Last, but not least, keep everything in perspective. You want to make your employees feel reassured, not panicked. Be sure to balance your message by reiterating that, although your plan is necessary, it’s thankfully one that the business is very unlikely to action.

(This article originally appeared in Risk UK Blog, written by Helen Down, StaySafe)

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