Emergency response—A critical component of workplace safety
Accidents and injuries can occur in all workplaces. Having a well-thought-out emergency response plan and properly organized and trained team can help minimize trauma and damage. This article discusses one company's emergency response program and gives an example of its effectiveness.
The Accident — Part I
It was a Tuesday afternoon, only 11 days before Christmas Day. Aeroglide plant employees were busy wrapping up year-end work before the holidays. John Smith was working in the shipping department using a pneumatic nail gun to put pallets together. He was thinking of that perfect gift for his wife as he applied the nails to the dried timber. John remembers pulling the nail gun trigger but barely recalls the impact as the nail collided with a knot in the wood and careened into his finger. He immediately started walking toward the plant's first-aid station. He recalls flagging down an emergency response team (ERT) member but recollects very little after that.
A Brief History
Approximately 15 years ago Aeroglide evolved from a small to a middle-sized manufacturing facility. During the transition years, the company realized that an ERT would be a smart step toward maintaining safety as the facility grew. Injuries would occur on the plant floor, and no single point of contact or formal procedures were in place to ensure that the injured employee received proper care in a timely manner. Most employees knew some first aid, and they simply handled emergencies as they arose.
Initially a small group of employees who naturally were inclined to help an injured person was assembled. This group received very little formal training and primarily operated as a bandage service and escorted injured personnel to a local health clinic. Organizing this group was a small step in the right direction.
Over the past few years, the company has attempted to refine the response team by purposely adding members who represent a cross section of the company from various departments. Employees who have emergency response experience—former rescue workers, military service personnel—are encouraged to participate.
Twelve members comprise the team, which covers 150 on-site employees. Having one team member for every 11 to 17 employees seems to work well at Aeroglide, assuming the team is a representative cross section.
The ERT's purpose is to provide basic, lifesaving medical care to the victim until more advanced medical personnel arrive on the scene. Team members are not doctors and nurses, and it is critical that they know where they fit into the larger safety picture. They are required to act when they see danger or an injury and always must act according to the level of training they have received—no more or less.
Accidents. When responding to accidents, ERT members determine the severity of the accident and respond as necessary. The response may be minor, such as providing bandages for scrapes and bangs, or major, such as administering CPR/AED in the event of cardiac arrest.
The responding team member is responsible for initiating the cycle that includes summoning advanced medical help if it is needed. The company has established clear lines of communication, both internally and with local area emergency systems, as well as a central pickup point for outside rescue vehicles.
All emergencies are handled following the same basic guidelines. Emergencies breed nervousness and simple mistakes. Therefore, it is crucial to have a basic set of guidelines that are followed even with minor injuries.
Building Evacuations. ERT members also form a critical link during major catastrophes and building evacuations. Again, it is important to note that members are not doctors but rather a link that connects survival with advanced medical help. During building emergencies that require plant evacuations, ERT members perform a building sweep, searching the entire building, including office areas.
After making sure that no employees remain in the building, each team member assumes a specified place on the outer perimeter of the facility where he or she remains throughout the crisis. Members ensure that no traffic (other than the appropriate emergency vehicles) enters or leaves the property. They also keep employees from re-entering the building.
Members are positioned in a way that permits them to offer first aid to possible victims and to route emergency vehicles to the proper locations.
General Awareness. ERT members are expected to be very aware of their surroundings and recognize danger that even may be unknown to the potential victim. One employee was stung by a bee. Later that day the employee suddenly experienced swelling in the neck area, but didn't relate the swelling to the sting until an ERT member asked about prior activities that day. ERT members must be aware and ask questions.
Training can vary to some degree depending on the state in which the facility is located. Aeroglide follows the local American Red Cross chapter guidelines. First-aid training and testing are updated and conducted every three years, CPR/AED training and testing are done annually.
Updates that occur between the scheduled training sessions are relayed from the American Red Cross to the ERT director and then reviewed and discussed by all team members until they are understood thoroughly.
Aeroglide has hired many Spanish-speaking employees over the last several years. Consequently, the company has added Spanish-speaking employees to the ERT. Often an injured individual becomes very nervous and tends to revert back to a more comfortable native language. Obviously, it's impossible to have a team member from every nationality within a company, but the majority can be represented with little added effort.
The Accident — Part II
The nail that deflected from the knotty wood and punctured John Smith's finger did not pierce the finger completely, but rested against the bone for a brief moment before John jerked his hand away from the dull pain.
As he flagged down the nearest ERT member, John briefly lost consciousness. At that moment team members were forced to deal with two separate issues. The finger puncture became the lesser injury when compared with the loss of consciousness.
Team members placed John in a resting position and immediately dialed 911. By the time advanced medical personnel had arrived, team members had checked vital signs and comforted John while other members bandaged his hand. The local hospital determined that John had merely fainted and had experienced momentary shock from the pain of the nail striking bone. The ERT once again had risen to the task and passed the test. When dealing with human tragedy, one cannot afford to be ill-prepared or make mistakes.
Aeroglide has experienced firsthand the value of an ERT. Initial victim care can be critical. Simple injuries can become life-threatening without proper aid. ERT structures and plans may vary based on company size. However, any plan is a start. Start small, incorporate quality training, and mold the program to your company's needs. In a very short time, you will find out how much employees use and rely on the services of a trained emergency staff. As an Aeroglide employee once said, "If I am ever injured, there is no one I'd rather have by my side than one of our emergency responders."
The goal is to see all employees embrace their families at the end of the day in the same or better physical condition than when they arrived on the job. Having an ER plan and team is a great start toward achieving that goal.