While extreme weather and nature events are nothing new in the history of mankind, over the past year we’ve been hit with more than our fair share. Just last Friday, the massive eruption of a volcano near the South Pacific island of Tonga was so extensive it could be seen by astronauts from the Space Station. The explosion caused damaging tsunamis in New Zealand, Japan, the U.S., Russia, Chile and Peru.

Let’s not forget Winter Storm Uri, or as we like to call it around here “Snowpocalypse,” that slammed Texas in February of 2021 causing energy blackouts to over nine million people. Even last month, a series of tornadoes moved across 160 miles of Kentucky causing more than 50 fatalities and an undetermined amount of damage. All said, it’s enough for our GroupOne Background Screening team to say without hesitation, “Mother Nature, you scary!”

These extreme weather and nature events serve as a powerful reminder to employers to have a disaster plan and preparedness training for your workforce.

During the Kentucky tornadoes, eight employees tragically perished at a candle factory, with workers claiming they were threatened with termination if they left early due to storm warnings.

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees, especially during unexpected natural disasters or emergency situations. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “a workplace emergency is a situation that threatens workers, customers or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage. Emergencies may include hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, winter weather, chemical spills, disease outbreaks, releases of biological agents, explosions and many other hazards.”

OSHA provides an Emergency Preparedness and Response page listing specific hazards to prepare for, as well as links for emergency preparedness guidance.

Regardless of your business, the first step is to develop written emergency and disaster preparedness policies and communicate them to employees. Employers would be well served to brainstorm possible emergencies and what should be done if they occur. The policy should include types of emergencies, a description of the emergency notification system, an evacuation plan, post-evacuation protocol and shutdown procedures.

Employers should not be content with just having a written policy. Employees should receive periodic training on emergency preparedness, including drills. Employees should know who is in charge during an emergency, to include designated evacuation coordinators responsible for moving employees to safe areas.

Culture is important. Employees should feel comfortable when notifying their supervisors if they do not feel safe in the workplace. They should not fear losing their jobs if they choose to speak up.

It’s a good idea to ask employees with disabilities what type of assistance they might need. Employers should ensure that signage and procedures are in place to safely evacuate all employees, including those with disabilities.

As recent events across the U.S. and the world demonstrate, it is crucial for employers to prepare for emergency situations. Such plans not only support business operations, but they save employee lives.

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.