Disaster Preparedness in Construction: 5 Tips for Construction Site Managers
Preparing for the worst will allow you to keep workers safer, minimize the damage, and ensure the continuity of your business.
The United States knows that Mother Nature can be merciless. From the deadly hurricanes in Tornado Alley to the wildfires of the West, many states are exposed to different hazards and vulnerable to natural disasters. In fact, 56 severe thunderstorms, 20 flash floods, 16, wildfires, 9 winter storms, 5 cyclones, and 2 earthquakes were classified as catastrophes in 2018, causing an estimated overall loss of $82 billion.
Disasters can take a variety of forms, whether natural or man-made, and their impact on business is devastating. These disasters and emergencies can severely affect your company’s infrastructure, profitability, and ultimately, your ability to continue business operations.
No industry is immune to disasters, but the construction industry tends to be one of the hardest-hit sectors. With temporary structures, hazardous materials, and heavy equipment present on site, a disaster can easily decimate a construction company’s resources and endanger construction site employees.
Construction project managers are familiar with Murphy’s law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” Without sufficient planning to handle unforeseen disasters, contractors run the risk of not only having their business devastated but also exposing the company to liability.
Here are some disaster preparedness tips to help you minimize damage to your construction site.
1. Make a List of Worst-Case Scenarios
One of the first things you need to do when developing a disaster preparedness strategy is ask, “What is the worst thing that could happen to our construction site?” This is the best starting point that provides a solid foundation for site-specific disaster preparedness plans.
For example, is the job site located near a fault line where earthquakes may occur? Are there hazardous chemicals that can be set on fire or spill and cause injuries to workers and third parties? Is it hurricane season and is the area prone to flooding?
(Learn more in Lessons from 3 of the Word Workplace Disasters)
In addition to the big disasters, try to take into account less obvious but equally devastating threats. Do you have confidential information that can be physically stolen or a company server that can be hacked? How about an active shooter situation? Or a flu pandemic that can spread through a site? Times are changing and these disasters are valid concerns that you need to consider.
Different scenarios pose different risks. So when developing a disaster preparedness plan, it is important to formulate strategies based on individual scenarios. List these scenarios and prioritize them based on which your company is most vulnerable to. Finally, try to assess how each scenario can impact your company in the event that it occurs.
2. Develop an Emergency Preparedness Checklist
After identifying the worst-case scenarios, the next step is to develop a disaster preparedness checklist that can help you organize your overall emergency response strategy.
Here are some things that you need to include in your checklist:
- Are employees trained in basic first aid and CPR techniques?
- Do your employees have defined roles in the event of a disaster?
- Do you have the contact details of relevant emergency response groups (e.g. local police, fire department, emergency medical service organizations)?
- Are vulnerable areas on the construction site identified?
- Do you have an established chain of command?
- Do you have sufficient communication infrastructure that will still work in case of emergencies?
- Do you have the contact details of employees, clients, and suppliers?
- Do you have the necessary safety equipment?
- Do you have an established evacuation route?
- Does the site have a stockpile of emergency supplies?
It is important that the checklist assign specific instructions to key individuals. This streamlines the flow of communication and improves decision-making, two crucial things that make dealing with a disaster easier.
(Find out What Should Be Included in an Emergency Management Plan)
3. Train Employees in Disaster Preparedness
Your construction site employees are in the front lines when dealing with a disaster. For this reason, you need to actually include your employees in the planning phase. Your employees have the experience and valuable insight about potential hazards on the site and how you can improve your disaster preparedness.
After developing your disaster preparedness plan, you should train your employees to follow the procedures specified in it. This should include the evacuation process, the use of emergency equipment, the location of first-aid supplies and emergency provisions, and the contact details of key individuals and emergency response teams.
(Learn more in First Aid Kits: The Essential List)
The company should also regularly hold seminars about disaster preparedness. You may invite relevant organizations such as your local fire department and emergency response teams to speak about the best practices in dealing with specific disasters and emergencies. Finally, all of these training sessions should be reinforced with practice drills and emergency response simulations to ensure the site is well-prepared.
4. Establish a Central Command Post
Communication and decision-making are severely hampered during a disaster. So before disaster strikes, you need to establish a central command post where the flow of communication and decision-making can be referred to by employees and emergency response teams. This post should have the necessary communications equipment, site plans, and documents that will aid in taking back control of the situation. It should also have a list of employees and their contact information, as well as emergency backup power in case power lines get cut off.
5. Develop a Business Continuity Plan
When disaster strikes, your first priority is to ensure the safety of your construction site employees. But when the initial danger has passed, you now have to think about your business’s ability to continue its operations. After all, a disaster can have long-lasting effects on your business that you should also consider. The aim of this plan is to establish the critical functions of your business with minimal disruption and financial impact.
First, you need to analyze the overall impact of the disaster on your business. This includes the total losses, including the loss of future income due to the disaster and increased expenses to replace damaged materials and equipment. You may also have to pay regulatory fines and contractual penalties.
Next, in order to bring business back to normal, check the resources that you do have. These are your employees, equipment, and supplies that can provide a firm foundation for you to start over. Identify and prioritize the resources that you need to re-establish your core business functions.
Invest in Jobsite Safety
It’s standard practice for construction businesses to set up protections – from preliminary notices for delinquent clients to appropriate insurance. The same care must be applied to project sites. A lot of construction site disasters are unpredictable, but with proper planning and preparedness, you can lessen the impact they can have on your business. Formulating a disaster preparedness strategy can take a lot of time but it is one of your most valuable investments that will ensure the continuity of your business in the event of a disaster.
Written by Patrick Hogan | CEO of Handle.com
Patrick Hogan is the CEO of Handle.com, where they build software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers with late payments. Handle.com also provides funding for construction businesses in the form of invoice factoring, material supply trade credit, and mechanics lien purchasing.