Occupational Safety In Natural Disasters

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First responders helping people during a floodNatural disasters can create a multitude of safety, wellness, and health concerns for workers in the affected areas. Emergency preparedness plays an essential role in ensuring employees and employers are safe when natural disasters strike.

Occupational health and safety professionals are not only responsible for regulatory policy compliance and enforcement, but they also ensure people are safe while at work during crises. As part of the job, they prepare for natural disasters—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods—long before they happen. They make plans, make sure employees are prepared, and ensure the proper equipment is in place. Because natural disasters can be unpredictable, advance preparation is essential, experts such as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said.

OSHA mandates companies with 10 or more employees have written emergency action plans (EAPs) that outline procedures such as hazardous incident reporting and emergency evacuations. OSHA officials say a well-developed safety plan that is appropriately communicated will reduce workplace injuries and hazards.

A CareerBuilder survey found 17 percent of U.S. workers do not feel well protected in their workplace in the event of a fire, flood or another disaster. Another 22 percent do not believe their companies have emergency plans in place in the case of such events.

“As an employer, you have an obligation to protect your employees by every means possible, and having an emergency plan in place to deal with unforeseen events is part of that,” says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “However, an emergency plan is only as good as how well it is communicated. It is crucial that employees not only know about this plan, but have easy access to it and participate in regular drills so they know how to protect themselves and others.”

For anyone considering a career as an occupational health and safety specialist, emergency planning is at the crux of position. They must understand and be able to enact safety precautions before, during, and after emergency situations to ensure employees are safe and the company continues to operate.

Natural Disaster Classifications And Dangers

Natural disasters are classified by geographic area (earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, and floods) and atmospheric conditions (tornado, drought, lightning, and cyclone). Other natural hazards that don’t fit into a single category include infectious disease epidemics, insect infections, and wildfires. Natural disasters are further classified by size and impact on people (called catastrophic hazards) and amount of time (called rapid or slow onset hazards).

Hazards also have three different consequences:

  • Primary Effect – The primary effect of a disaster is the result of the incident itself. Primary effects include wind and rain damage from a hurricane or burned building from a wildfire.
  • Secondary Effect – Secondary effects happen as a result of the primary effect, such as the loss of electricity and running water from a hurricane or fires igniting after an earthquake.
  • Tertiary Effect – Tertiary effects are the long-term impacts that result from the primary effect. Examples include the loss of habitat from flooding or crop failures caused by a wildfire.

Employee Safety In Natural Disasters

Organizations that include the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) suggest safety experts take basic steps to prepare their workplaces for natural disasters:

  • Develop a plan
    A comprehensive emergency disaster plan should address procedures for employee safety, particularly in the event of last-minute emergencies. Contingency plans should be in place to deal with facility damages, equipment for personnel, procedures for evacuations, performance of emergency functions, and chain of command.
  • Practice the plan
    Natural disaster planning sessions help safety specialists observe the weaknesses in emergency plans and make improvements where needed. Experts say safety specialists should vary the time of the safety drills to determine the vulnerabilities. Make sure employees understand the roles, expectations, and responsibilities.
  • Prepare emergency kits
    Emergency kits should be prepared in advance of any emergency with supplies that could include water, food, toolkits, batteries, and radios. Supplies should be stored in a windowless room.
  • Coordinate and communicate
    Safety specialists must be able to communicate with local and state emergency agencies, including police, fire, hospitals, and departments of emergency operations. Also contact suppliers, shippers, and other business partners to ensure they understand the impact the emergency has on the company’s ongoing operations.

Occupational safety professionals are also responsible for constructing a clear chain of command, creating signals and alerts that indicate impending dangers, and assessing dangers for severity.

At Eastern Kentucky University, online baccalaureate students who study occupational safety learn about employee safety education, the role of OSHA in the workplace, and ways to identify workplace hazards

Students enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety program also minor in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology, which provides a broad-based understanding of fire science and emergency decision-making.

About Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Bachelor Of Science In Occupational Safety

Students enrolled in the EKU online Bachelor of Science In Occupational Safety learn advanced-level occupational safety skills that prepare them for careers in the public and private sector. The university’s faculty members are industry leaders who are committed to preparing the next generation of experts.

The program’s online format allows students to continue their home and career responsibilities while earning an advanced degree. For more information, contact EKU now.

Recommended Reading

Five Ways to Improve Office Safety

The Hierarchy of Hazard Control: A Five-Step Process

Five Dangerous Chemical Hazards






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