For most companies, a visit from an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector in 2017 can be a stressful scenario. Until recently, non-compliance fines were minimal for non-serious violations. But that changed in 2016 when Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 which required federal agencies, including OSHA, to adjust their civil money penalties based on inflation.
Companies should no longer equate violations and penalties to the cost of doing business. A lack of response planning or preparedness can be detrimental in numerous ways. Any potentially escalating health, safety or environmental incident or business disruption can result in, but is not limited to:
- Compromised employee safety and productivity
- Lost revenues and business opportunities
- Contractual-based penalties
- Damaged reputation
- Regulatory fines
Until 2016, OSHA penalties and fines haven't increased in over 25 years. With an elevated focus on preparedness, companies should evaluate the potential impact of these costs compared to the establishment or improvement of safety programs.
The Emergency Action Plan
Emergency Action Plans or Emergency Response Plans are not only required for most companies, but are essential to the well-being of employees. The Emergency Action Plan regulation (29 CFR 1910.38), states that employers with 11 or more employees must have to create a written emergency action plan. Even for locations with ten or fewer employees, employers are still required by OSHA to communicate an EAP to staff. An emergency action plan must communicate the following minimum requirements:
- Means of reporting fires or other emergencies
- Evacuation procedures, including exit route assignments
- Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical operations before they evacuate
- Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation
- Procedures to be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties
- The name or job title of every employee who may be contacted by employees who need more information about the plan or an explanation of their duties under the plan.
At a minimum, companies should be prepared in the event the unexpected occurs. But for companies with more than 10 employees, especially those with multiple locations, the basic emergency action plan may not be enough to ensure preparedness or compliance.
Response plan regulations are often specific to operational hazards, inherent threats, or incident-specific response needs. Companies should not limit response planning to simple fire emergencies, but consider an all-hazard, inclusive approach in preparedness.
Most incidents are short-lived and can be brought under control rather quickly when prepared planning is prioritized. Responses to these incidents are typically tactical in nature.
Response Planning and Preparedness
More serious incidents may require specialized response teams or assistance from outside entities, such as local fire, police or agencies. The emergency response plan or emergency operations plan should be inclusive of multiple possibilities and address the time period immediately after the incident. This level of preparedness prompts a rapid return of critical operations.
Preparedness planning should cover three objectives:
- Maintain existing emergency management readiness capabilities
- Prevent emergency management capabilities from becoming part of the emergency
- Augment emergency management capabilities with internal and external response resources
Preparedness plans should address capabilities needed for prevention, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation activities. These plans should include, but are not limited to the following:
- Facility Information
- Hazard analysis
- Response checklists
- Required notifications
- Response team organization, activation procedures, and roles
- Identification of training requirements based on roles
- Guidelines for developing, conducting, and evaluating exercises
- Ongoing plan review and evaluation process
As agencies continue to redefine their monetary penalties, companies must not rely on the prospect of an inspection to ensure preparedness programs are sufficient. Regulatory deficiencies are most likely shared with others within the same industry, therefore, companies may identify potential solutions by researching best practices. Often, the expertise and knowledge that drove the regulation into existence stems from the problems and experiences of others, and their efforts to address the inherent problem(s).