Picking up the Pieces Following a Disaster

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People breathe a sigh of relief if their home or business has been spared, without any loss of life, in a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or other disaster.

But just because the disaster has passed doesn’t mean the danger is over. Here’s a list of safety tips from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) that should be considered following a disaster:

  • Structural security: The structural integrity of a building or facility must be validated by a qualified professional before anyone enters the building.

  • Safe entry: Contact the proper government agencies for approval to resume occupancy of the building. Do not enter a facility or building before then.

  • Clean-up safety: Implement your clean-up and business resumption processes in a safe and healthful manner, to prevent worker injury or worse. Provide training in proper selection and use of PPE for your employees and yourself.

  • Air quality assessment: Ensure the atmosphere in the workplace environment is tested for asbestos and other chemical/toxic agents.

  • Ventilation: Have vents checked to assure that water heaters and glass furnaces are clear and operable. Dust and debris can stop or impede airflow. Safely start up HVAC systems, including inspection of lines before energizing and pressurizing of the systems.

  • Interior/exterior exposures: Ensure no wall or ceiling materials are in danger of falling in interior areas. Check for cracked windows and any objects on the building’s exterior that could fall onto pedestrians.

  • Protection equipment: Ensure that fire and smoke alarms have been cleaned and tested and sprinklers are operating properly before allowing occupancy of the building.

  • Electrical safety: Electrical systems, computer cables and telecommunications equipment must be checked to ensure they are still safe and there is no danger of exposure to electricity. Wiring inspections should be conducted from the outside in to ensure all wiring and connections are not in danger of shorting out because of water damage from rain or firefighting efforts.

  • Use existing federal guidelines: Utilize start-up guidance materials provided by government agencies.

  • Health/sanitation issues: Inspect and test general facility sanitation systems to guard against potential employee exposure to toxic agents. If the workspace has a kitchen, inspect oven hoods and other ventilation devices to ensure they are not clogged and are working efficiently.

  • Office furniture: Inspect furniture to ensure it can withstand expected loads and usages. Ensure that storage devices screwed or bolted to railing systems on walls have not become unstable because of water damage or shaking due to explosions.

  • Lighting: Ensure there are adequate illumination levels for employees. Check to ensure that emergency lighting functions properly.

  • Emergency planning: Ensure there is a clear path of egress for the emergency evacuation of employees and that fire extinguishers are still operable and fully charged.

  • Solid/hazardous waste removal: Gather and safely dispose of broken glass, debris or other materials with cutting edges. Don’t put these items out for general collection.

  • Power checks: Never use fueled generators or heaters indoors. Ensure there are no gas or sewer leaks in your facility. Check with your local utilities for information regarding power, gas, water and sewer usage.

  • Check mainframes: If your facility has mainframe computer operations see that lines and cabling for chiller systems are checked to avoid chemical leakage.

  • Emergency procedures: Create a new emergency plan and distribute it to employees as soon as they return to work. Designate a place for employees to gather during an emergency or a telephone number to call, so that everyone can be accounted for. Regularly update emergency contact names and numbers.

  • Machine inspections: Inspect the condition of drain, fill, plumbing and hydraulic lines on processes and machines. Have plumbing lines evaluated and tested to detect any hazardous gases.

  • Surfaces: Make sure flooring surfaces are safe and free from possible slip, trip and fall hazards.