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Given the nature of the work, construction sites pose inherent safety risks. In fact, OSHA estimates that nearly a quarter of all work-related fatalities occur in the construction industry. But oftentimes the first risks that come to mind are equipment-related accidents and personal injuries.

While these may be top-of-mind concerns, it’s particularly important to be proactive about emergency response planning in the spring and summer. As temperatures warm, weather conditions such as tornadoes and flash flooding can cause sudden, serious threats anywhere in the country—while some regions are prone to specific threats like hurricanes and wildfires.

Construction businesses that lack clear direction for emergency response put their employees and subcontractors at risk, and open themselves up to a range of liability concerns, including citations, fees and their very reputation. With so much at stake, construction executives can encourage on-site safety by regularly and proactively reevaluating—and clearly communicating—the company’s emergency response plan throughout each project.

What Constitutes an Emergency?

By OSHA definition, 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 be natural or man-made, and may include hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, winter weather, chemical spills or releases, disease outbreaks, releases of biological agents, explosions involving nuclear or radiological sources and many other hazards.”

With such a broad definition, it’s important to be comprehensive in planning. Accounting for unlikely scenarios helps keep everyone safe and ensures that operations remain compliant.

Who’s Responsible?

As is the case with any business, everyone on-site—from planners and contractors to suppliers—should be aware of their current emergency action plan for every project. Construction sites, however, pose unique challenge for emergency planning. Plans may change frequently as the project progresses, and different individuals may or may not be on-site throughout the project.

Because construction sites exist in a constant state of flux, be sure everyone on-site is briefed on the emergency plan before they begin working. As the project progresses, evaluate and recommunicate the components of the plan and those responsible for enacting it.

Ensure that whoever is responsible for creating and enacting the emergency response plan is on-site daily and is familiar with the unique and changing conditions of the project. A superintendent or supervisor may be a good choice. The individual can also identify other team members to assist in an emergency, such as a team members responsible for contacting first responders or accessing immediate first aid, or someone trained in lifesaving skills such as CPR. Having trained individuals in these roles and available on-site helps ensure fast and effective action in an emergency.

What’s Included in a Comprehensive Emergency Action Plan?

Whether developing an initial plan for a new project or reassessing an existing plan, use the following components as the framework. Be sure these elements are in place before beginning work on any project or site:

  • Location and description of the site. Clarify the address of the construction site and the nature of the project. Inform everyone how to safely evacuate, including locations and descriptions of different available routes. Reevaluate these procedures regularly, as they’re often subject to the most change throughout a project. Always communicate those changes as they occur. In addition to escape procedures, designate the best place to take shelter in the event of a tornado or other severe storm—focus on lower levels and sound structures with few windows, doors or glass.

  • Escape procedures and emergency route assignments. Inform everyone how to safely evacuate, including locations and descriptions of different available routes. Reevaluate these procedures regularly, as they’re often subject to the most change throughout a project. Always communicate those changes as they occur. In addition to escape procedures, designate the best place to take shelter in the event of a tornado or other severe storm—focus on lower levels and sound structures with few windows, doors or glass.

  • Preferred means of reporting an emergency. Designate phone numbers and other means of contacting first responders or other emergency personnel, and provide contact information for those authorities.

  • Information of the nearest medical facility. Provide the name, address and directions to the nearest medical facility, so no one’s left guessing in the middle of an emergency.

  • Individuals responsible for communicating with first responders. Designate someone on-site to answer first responders’ questions upon arrival and after the emergency. While they may not be the same individuals who contact first responders, they should be prepared and capable of answering their questions.

  • Individuals responsible for overseeing rescue or medical duties. Delegate this to someone who is always on-site. While they aren’t necessarily responsible for providing emergency care, they’re responsible for ensuring that workers who need medical care can receive it promptly.

  • Headcount procedures. Create a plan to account for everyone on-site after an emergency to help ensure no one is left in harm’s way, and missing or injured people are quickly identified.

  • Names and titles of individuals who can provide additional details. While the emergency plan should be effectively communicated and made available in writing on-site, keep in mind that authorities may have follow-up questions regarding specific plan details. List individuals who can provide this information within the plan itself.

How can individuals stay prepared?

Preparing for the unpredictable isn’t an easy task—particularly on construction sites, where conditions and teams change daily. Consistent, timely communication is key to an effective emergency response plan.

Regardless of work arrangements, the best practice is to develop a company-specific plan with the components outlined here, and review the plan with local experts. Implementing such safeguards and procedures helps better protect the company, its workers, the jobsite—and the company’s success—both in the moment and in the aftermath of an emergency.

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