The fourth and final part of this series describes what we do when something does happen. In the first three parts, I described how we make sure that nothing happens. Nevertheless, we prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario.
You can find the other articles in this series here:
Part 1: Occupational safety and health organization
Part 2: Safe working conditions
Part 3: Qualification for safe working
- Why do I need to prepare for emergencies?
- What emergencies do I need to look at?
- What emergencies are reasonably foreseeable in almost any business?
- How do I prepare properly?
- What are the emergency preparedness measures?
- Summary of the series
Even if we have created good working conditions and work safely. The possibility of something happening cannot be ruled out.
The reasoning behind a court decision of the Münster Higher Administrative Court sums this up wonderfully:
It is life experience that the occurrence of a fire must be expected at any time. The fact that no fire breaks out in many buildings for decades does not prove that there is no danger, but represents a stroke of luck for those affected, the end of which must be expected at any time!https://www.schornsteinfeger-innung-tuebingen.de/artikel-10.html my translation
In plain language, this means that there is no such thing as one hundred per cent safety; we must constantly work on it. This work should not only consist of preventive measures. Knowing how to proceed correctly in an emergency and having the necessary tools available helps to limit the extent of loss. In other words, to keep personal injury, damage to property and the environment, and in particular personal suffering among those affected, as low as possible.
Once again, it depends. Namely, on your company:
Do you work with people, can they or you hurt yourself? Can other people come to harm in the process?
Are you dealing with ignitable materials? Can explosive atmospheres develop?
Can your work release substances in quantities that harm the environment? Which can get into the soil, water or air and cause damage there?
Can there be property damage?
Prepare yourself to be able to react quickly and well in these situations. Focus on the essentials, however; you cannot plan ahead for any emergency, no matter how far-fetched it may seem.
What happens in your business, your environment and your industry all the time? What emergencies can you reasonably anticipate? Plan for these cases. If in addition you have an idea of how to proceed if your own measures are not sufficient, then you are well positioned (e.g. call fire brigade).
Everywhere people do something, they can hurt themselves. As crude as that sounds, it’s true. It’s not about fault or anything like that, but purely about the fact that something can happen.
The danger is everywhere, remember the court ruling. Flammable material is everywhere, all plastics are among them. An ignition source can be found soon: an electrical defect, a component that runs hot. It doesn’t always have to be the flame or the spark. The bad thing about most fires, especially the small ones, is the highly toxic fumes they produce.
All organic dusts form explosive atmospheres if the concentration in the air is within the explosion limits. Ignitable liquids and gases are highly likely to form explosive atmospheres.
The first thing that comes to mind here is mineral oil products that are spilled on the ground. The best known classic is probably lawn mower gasoline. Damages soil life and with what small amounts of oil or gasoline you can pollute huge amounts of water, probably everyone has heard.
Property damage may result in greater consequential damage under certain circumstances.
Once you have identified the expected loss events, the logical consequence is to prepare for them. However, it is not expedient to prepare for every eventuality, no matter how improbable. We can safely keep church in the village.
The assessment of the risk includes the probability that this case will occur and the extent of the damage. Example: Sugar burns well and can certainly form an explosive atmosphere. But the sugar bowl next to the coffee machine?
Now there are precautionary measures that are legally required. For example, first-aiders and first aid kits. These can be specific, such as in Germany at least 10% of the workforce are first-aiders (5% in office areas). These can be non-specific, such as first aid materials must be provided in appropriate quantities.
Then there are precautionary measures that are recognised as generally applicable rules. For example, you have a fire extinguisher within easy reach when carrying out work that poses a fire hazard. Or oil binding agents if there is a high risk of water-polluting substances entering a surface water body.
These listings, as well as the following, are definitely not exhaustive. They can certainly be picked apart quite easily by other experts. That’s not the point. The point is to get a sense of what can happen and to evaluate your own operation. That’s why I’m keeping this post rather simple and accepting a certain amount of superficiality.
I consider this to be absolutely necessary – i.e. basic equipment – for every company:
First-aiders and bandaging material
Employees who know how to treat wounds, stop bleeding and perform resuscitation. They know what they can do, when they need help and how to get help. These are the essential points in the first-aider training courses.
The specified percentages are intended to ensure that sufficient first-aiders are always available, depending on the risk. The same applies to the number of first aid kits. In case of doubt, the number of first-aiders cannot be high enough.
A regular refresher course is helpful for people, because then they are not there in an emergency and do not know what to do. For some people, several years have passed since the first-aid course for the driver’s license.
Do you have few employees, do your people work on construction sites, perhaps in small groups? Just send them all to the training.
In my opinion, fire extinguishers belong not only in every business, but also in every household. However, they are not very helpful if nobody knows how to use them or dares to use them.
Practice with it. If you don’t want to get an extra fire safety trainer, ask your fire department. Or train employees as fire safety assistants.
If the worst comes to the worst, do you and your people know how to get to a protected area and how to behave there?
How do you alert – how do people know that they need to put their feet up right now? Where do they go, and where do they have to go? What do they do during the evacuation and at the assembly point. And how do they continue there?
Yes – especially with changing locations such as construction sites, it is exciting to organise this properly.
So: explain to your people how they are alerted. What the escape routes are and where the assembly point is. Regular drills are helpful, they do not necessarily have to be “hot”.
Organize and train how your people get help: how to alert a first responder or the colleague who knows how to use the fire extinguisher.
How do you get additional help? Here I mean external help, i.e. rescue services. What is the emergency number (do I have to dial 0 before 112 in the telephone system?). How do the rescue forces get to the actual place of operation, especially in unclear installations and on construction sites?
One very important point in conclusion: with all the love, with all the admiration for the commitment and the willingness to take risks of the helpers: the most important point in emergency situations is self-protection. Nothing is gained if more people need help afterwards – or who can no longer be helped. As scary as it sounds.
Let’s be aware that despite all the care taken up front, something can always happen. Let us consider what can happen on the basis of regulations, standards and empirical values. Then it is relatively easy to prepare for the relevant emergency situations in such a way that the damage is kept within limits through targeted intervention.
This is the fourth and final part of my introductory series on occupational health and safety. In these articles, I try to convey the basic information on occupational safety and health in such a way that you can see a structure and a context. I think I have achieved a lot if the topic of occupational health and safety has become more tangible and appealing to one or the other of my gentle readers.