What is our obligation, legal or otherwise to house employees if they cannotleave the building in the event of an emergency? The government Web sites haveinformation regarding putting together a kit for your family, but every scenariopublished is based on people being mobile, or being at home.
Kuhr suggests every company have a shelter-in-placeplan. This kind of planhas checklists and other information on what to do if you’re stuck inside;many companies have it in place to prepare for a hurricane, tornado, or otherdisaster. In putting together the plan, you’ll need to coordinate with thelocal fire department, the fire-safety professionals in your building, and thefire wardens on each floor.
Part of a shelter-in-place plan is evacuation. Employees will need to betrained on how to evacuate, and you should conduct drills to test the system. Emergency planners must know where employees should go upon evacuating, so thatthey can account for everyone and let the fire department know who’s in andwho’s out of the building.
Kuhr says employees should each have a kit on hand with items like aflashlight, radio, prescription medication, an extra pair of glasses, a copy oftheir passport and driver’s license, cash, a pocket knife.
How would this affect workers’ compensation if employees are stranded and acompany does not have provisions in place? Perhaps there are guidelines that canbe used.
Kuhr says he hasn’t seen a lot of cases on this yet, though they may comesoon as the World Trade Center litigation gets resolved. He does remindemployers that they "have an obligation under current OSHA laws to provide forthe safest work environment possible." You can ask attorneys about this formore information.
What's the best way for employers to approach their employees on this topic?I keep thinking of the movies we used to see in school of how to duck under yourdesk in case of a nuclear attack. They seem amusing now, but back then peoplebelieved that's what they were suppose to do. How much of those films werereally about what to do, or were they about giving people some sort of peace ofmind? The psychological aspect is just as important as the tangible ones.
"We're not issuing films these days," Kuhr says. "We're going with apractical approach. Meet with employees and train them. Tell them it's seriousstuff and encourage to follow protocol."
The information contained in this article is intended to provide usefulinformation on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice ora legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
Compiled by Todd Raphael and Catherine Tharp.
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