Allison Hutton

Is Your Workplace Ready for an Emergency?

While you may hope you never need it, a company emergency response plan is critical. But according to a Nationwide survey, three-quarters of U.S. small businesses have taken no concrete steps toward emergency preparedness.

Don’t let an “it can’t happen here” attitude put both your workforce and your business at risk.

What Is Considered a Workplace Emergency?

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) identifies a workplace emergency primarily as “an unforeseen situation that threatens your employees, customers or the public.” Emergencies also include incidents that require you to close your place of business or that cause physical or environmental damage in or around the location. These situations or incidents can be either naturally occurring or man-made.

Common examples of workplace emergencies include:

  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Tornadoes
  • Toxic gas releases
  • Chemical spills
  • Explosions
  • Workplace violence
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Making Employee Safety a Top Priority

It’s every business owner’s responsibility to train employees on what to do in the event of an emergency. While many variables — from industry to location — can dictate what the law requires in terms of emergency response plans, there are common requirements for all businesses. OSHA mandates that all businesses with 10 or more employees have a company emergency response plan that includes, at minimum:

  • A method of reporting the emergency
  • Defined evacuation procedures, including emergency escape-route assignments
  • Plans for certain employees to stay behind to operate or shut down critical workplace operations before evacuation
  • A party responsible for accounting for all employees after an evacuation
  • Defined rescue and medical responsibilities for assigned employees
  • Lists of pertinent personnel to be contacted in an emergency

Unexpected disasters are likely to create confusion and panic among employees. Planning and practicing a detailed response ahead of time will help ensure that everyone stays safe and the business suffers minimal interruption.

What Happens If an Employee Is Injured?

Many small-business owners think of workers’ compensation insurance as reserved for high-risk industries like construction, but this is a dangerous mentality. Many states require workers’ compensation coverage for any business with two or more employees — though numbers vary by state, so check with your legal counsel. If an employee suffers a workplace injury, medical bills and other damages are paid through the workers’ comp, rather than the employee’s health care insurance.

Forcing employees to submit medical bill reimbursements for workplace injuries through their employee-sponsored health plan could cause issues for all covered employees. If a lack of coverage means that a workers’ compensation claim can’t be filed, an injured employee may choose to file a personal injury claim against the employer.

If employer negligence is found to be the cause of an injury — for example because of the absence of an emergency preparedness plan — heavy fines and penalties can be levied by authorities like OSHA, and the company health insurance carrier can significantly increase premiums or drop coverage entirely.

Long before that happens, though, you have the opportunity to mitigate risk and keep your business and your people safe. If you don’t have an emergency preparedness plan in place, start developing one now.

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