One of my favorite short courses in the AIM curriculum is Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning, which covers the steps necessary to protect yourself and your business from potential outages due to natural or technological disasters. I have previously written about the necessities of such planning. With the official start of winter just weeks away, I want to highlight safety planning for weather hazards that may not throw your business into disarray but could certainly provide a temporary hazard for employees. The good news is that there are ways to mitigate such disruptions and keep workers safe.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Here in the Pacific Northwest winter flooding is always a possibility and we do get occasional snow and ice storms. A couple of years ago a river that had breached its banks and was flowing across the road blocked one access road to my home. While this was a minor inconvenience for me, think about how this might affect employees trying to get to or home from work. A recent Business Journal article highlighted a basic weather office safety plan that included documenting inclement weather scenarios. How would your business answer these questions:
- If a storm prevented at least half of our employees from coming to work, could we still operate?
- Do we have a way to notify employees to stay home in the event of an emergency?
- How do we determine what constitutes a hazard that would limit or shut down the business?
- What if a weather event strikes while employees are at work and they cannot get home? Do we have a plan for temporary housing, even for one night?
- How many employees have the ability to work from home and can they effectively do so?
While continuing business operations is important, it is even more important to protect the safety of employees.
The Best Laid Plans
The key to effective employee safety is planning and communications. If you are making plans to deal with bad weather it is best to do it in the heat of the summer, well before any snow, ice, or rain. As part of the safety/communications plans consider:
- At what point will we decide to shut down the business?
- How will we communicate that to employees?
- Does everyone know our method of communication?
- How can we help employees develop their own safety plan?
- Do we have supplies on hand to take care of employees temporarily?
- Can technology help us operate without asking employees to travel?
This takes input and coordination from several departments including HR, information technology, and communications. We may take it for granted that someone is thinking and planning for this, but often no one does. Make sure a safety plan and structures are in place and then rehearse that plan at least once a year. A plan buried deep in a notebook or file is the same as no plan at all.
I think it has become a cliché to say that employees are the most important asset, but it is definitely true. Without workers business stops, so it is prudent to think of employees first. Does your business have a safety plan? Do you have a personal plan for you and your family?
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.