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Thunderstorm safety at work: Before, during and after

May 31, 2022 10:20AM ● By Editor
By Maia Foulis from The Safety Magazine • May 29, 2022

Following severe thunderstorms last week, Quebec and Ontario are still reeling. At least 11 people have been reported dead as a result of the strong winds, and hundreds of thousands of Canadians have experienced power outages. Widespread damage to trees, buildings and other infrastructure has also been reported.

Businesses and organizations shouldn’t be scrambling when it comes to storm preparedness considering the potentially deadly and destructive consequences – and all employers are concerned. “A severe storm can affect all types of workplaces,” says Riane Marrs, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Outdoor work is affected directly by working in the elements, but Marrs says that indoor spaces can also be affected (through loss of power, for example). And while there isn’t always a lot of notice for a storm and you can’t control nature, she says that “you can have a plan that everyone is aware of so that workers, supervisors and managers know what to do and where to go before a storm arrives.”

Emergency situations like a bad storm can pose immediate risk of significant harm to health, life property or the environment – because they can bring high winds, lightning, hail and flooding among other hazards. “If we use high winds as an example, there's a risk of injury due to moving or thrown objects and debris, a risk of property damage to buildings, roofs and fences, not to mention downed power lines that can create an electrical hazard,” says Marrs.

In addition, broken branches and trees being uprooted from the wind can also damage property and cause injury.

Before a storm, workplaces should have an emergency preparedness plan in place. “This is sometimes referred to as an emergency response plan to prepare for weather events, and other emergencies. This plan would essentially identify and outline any potential emergencies, identify alarms and other methods of initiating a response,” she says.

The plan should outline site-specific response procedures and list roles and responsibilities, specify communication systems and backup plans in the event that it fails, and provide emergency contact information and outline education and training for all workers.

“In addition to implementing an emergency preparedness plan, regular workplace inspections should be carried out to identify hazardous conditions and correct them before they're made worse by severe weather events,” says Marrs. For example, employers should consider building maintenance such as roof repairs, and inspect and maintain trees on the property.

Workplaces should also “make sure that planning incorporates how to safely monitor a shut down or to continually operate critical processes, equipment and other devices that may cause injury or damage in the event of a power failure or a malfunction,” she says. In addition, employers should monitor changes in the weather using a trusted weather source.

There may be disruptions due to the emergency that might not allow for regular communication methods to be relied upon, this is why having a well thought out and organized emergency preparedness plan can help, says Marrs. The plan should also factor in how long it will take for emergency services to respond because in the event of a storm or other emergency, “there may be a delay in response due to the increased demand for these services.”

If a storm occurs, then the emergency plan should be initiated. “Everyone that may be affected should be alerted and removed from a potentially unsafe situation. And supervisors and workers should not be afraid to initiate their emergency procedure.”

After any major storm, Marrs says that “it’s important to check in with your workers and make sure that they're okay. While you want to make sure they're physically unharmed, it's also important to check in on their mental health,” and see if they were affected on that level by the storm, and whether they need additional supports.

Employers should also assess returning to work following an emergency and assess the workplace. This includes identifying any hazards and correcting them to make sure that it's safe before any workers return. “Once you know that it's safe to do so, there may be some cleanup needed to the worksite,” says Marrs. For example, are there any fallen trees or building repairs that need to be done before everyone can resume work (and also make sure that you have appropriate people to take care of this maintenance).

“And then after any event, it's important to have a debrief or review of what went well, and what could be improved in the emergency preparedness plan,” says Marrs. “If there are any changes, it's important to update the plan and share it with everyone.”

To see the original story and read related articles, follow this link to The Safety Magazine website.

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