Most people by now have heard about the violence in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb north of St. Louis. It all stemmed from a controversial shooting of an 18-year-old man by a local police officer. What started as a peaceful vigil for the man killed, Michael Brown, turned into utter chaos in our city. I am not making any statement or opinion about the shooting. What I’d like to do is think about why part of the story is important from a HR perspective for employers. In this case, there was an issue of employee safety for many businesses involved.
The day after Michael Brown was killed, continuous news coverage showed numerous local businesses being broken into on live television. This was not part of the vigil for the man who was killed, but a separate act by other people. The looters were removing inventory, money, lottery tickets, and even an ATM machine. They began setting the buildings on fire and breaking through barricaded windows and doors as scared employees of the businesses huddled inside. These employees never planned to be in a situation like this. They turned up to work their shift as they always did. They were never expecting to face an angry mob of protestors and people taking advantage of a bad situation.
Would your employees be prepared to respond in a similar situation? I’d like to think that all our organizations have disaster and safety preparedness plans for just this type of situation, but I know that many do not. In fact, many organizations do well to have weather or fire escape plans. So, what can you do if you’re in the position of introducing safety and security plans for your company? What resources exist for this?
Here are a few steps to think about taking if you are tasked with thinking about safety of employees in your organization. They may be additive to your existing safety plan or they may be a good start in creating one in addition to addressing weather or internal workplace violence.
- Create the Emergency Response Plan
- Identify emergency response team members who will step into action and be sure they understand their roles. They will be the people who lead others to a safe area, have a list of all employees to ensure everyone is accounted for, etc.
- Select a safe location to gather after evacuation. Regardless if it is a weather or other safety concern, employees need to understand where they can go safely and how best to get there.
- Depending on the type of business and size of your business, consider whether a “safe room” makes sense. These are also called panic rooms and can keep intruders out if a dangerous situation suddenly arises.
- Consider all methods of communication needed in an emergency. Other than internal phones or cell phones, what other methods of communication could be effective in your organization? Would employees have internet access or other means to contact emergency responders?
- Once your plan has been created, practice workplace safety drills as if it is a real emergency. Often the drills are viewed as a disruption to the day and not as an opportunity to tell employees to really think about what they would do if a real emergency happened.
- Tell employees to keep a few bottles of water in their office or work area. This will help in case they become trapped in that area for an extended period of time.
- Provide small flashlights and extra batteries for employees in your organization. These will aid in all types of emergencies.
- Invest in a small-first aid kits for the various work areas. Make sure employees know where they are located.
- Make note of colleagues who need help evacuating should an emergency occur.
Being prepared for the unexpected, crisis situation may just save your employees’ lives. Taking time each year to review your existing safety policy and procedures, then reinforcing them with employees, is a great way to maintain communication and demonstrate that employee safety is top of mind for the organization. Feel free to look for other resources provided by the Center for Disease Control.