January 16, 2020

Disaster preparedness for off-site workers: What you need to know

Disasters are unpredictable by definition. Despite this, most employers plan for emergency situations in which all of their employees are on-site and they have ample time to prepare — arguably the best-case scenario.

Unfortunately, disaster can (and does) strike while members of your team are away at a job site or visiting clients across town, which hampers your ability to communicate, provide support and, ultimately, keep them safe.

Colorado is not immune from the type of disasters that wreak havoc across the country. In fact, 13 Colorado counties are considered "high risk" or "very high risk" for natural hazards. In today's increasingly polarized political environment, we also witness more civil disobedience — protests in our own backyards.

Fortunately, there is plenty your company can do to prepare off-site employees to cope with catastrophe. To avoid chaos and keep your team safe when disaster strikes, follow these steps while all remains calm.

1. Prepare disaster plans for each of your sites

Workers face different risks based on their location and surroundings, so visit each station where your employees regularly work and create a plan specific to that site. In addition to reviewing escape routes and shutdown procedures, ensure they have any emergency equipment they need, such as fire extinguishers and medical supplies.

2. Personalize preparedness planning

"Off-site" can mean many different things, depending on your industry. It could mean that your workers are at people's homes, delivering medical care or landscaping services. Or it could mean that they're visiting with clients at their workplace, home office or even a local coffee shop. In Colorado, where many work in the great outdoors, it might even mean that they're up a mountain or camped out next to a river.
To make each employee feel supported, schedule individual meetings to discuss what is needed for his or her specific working conditions. Be sure to emphasize that, regardless of context, keeping your workers safe is a top priority.

3. Create a communications protocol

When a disaster takes place at a central location, everybody knows about it. But you rarely have the same insight into what your off-site workers encounter. For example, an employee could be making a house call in an area with a gas leak or downed power lines. Or you may hear a tornado is brewing in a far-flung country frequented by one of your team members.

Since you won't always know whether a disaster has affected your team members, open lines of communication are a must. Equip each worker, including those who work from home, with a laminated card to keep in their wallet or vehicle that features numbers to call in case of an emergency. In addition to contact information for local crisis services, share your main office phone number, after-hours answering service (if you have one) and the personal phone numbers of top managers.

Next, establish a protocol requiring employees to check in and report they are safe whenever disaster is looming in their area. One option is to engage a vendor who will send notifications on your behalf when emergencies arise — and then employees can respond.
Urge your employees to use the emergency contacts anytime they require assistance away from the office. Finally, remind them to always call for help when they need it.

4. Equip off-site crews with appropriate safety and emergency equipment

When employees are on the go, functioning primarily out of their personal vehicles or
work trucks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends that you provide them with an emergency kit stocked with the following items:

  • Jumper cables.
  • Reflective triangle and/or flare.
  • Electric tire pump, along with the tools and materials needed to repair a flat tire.
  • Class 3 reflective vest.
  • Cat litter or sand (for better tire traction).
  • Ice scraper.
  • Car cell phone charger.
  • Warm blankets.
  • Map.
  • An empty metal container to use for water.

They should also have easy access to high-protein snacks, water that's kept in a   location where it won't freeze in low temperatures and a first-aid kit equipped with the essentials. In addition, advise them to pack a bag of cold-weather gear that includes snow boots, snow pants with a fleece lining, wool socks, beanie, coat, gloves and face mask. You'll also want to ensure that all vehicles are well maintained with plenty of fuel.

The good news is that steps taken to prepare for an emergency are also effective in the case of a snowstorm or other weather event that Coloradans are likely to experience.
Your emergency preparedness efforts thus pay off by equipping your crew with what they need to safely respond to future crises.

Need more information? Pinnacol offers a library of emergency preparedness resources that will help you take the essential steps you need to ensure the safety of your workers.