Hurricanes are becoming larger and more frequent. Their extremely high winds, enormous downpours of rain, storm surges, high tides deliver an intense destructive force that results in weeks, months, or years of cleanup. They cover much larger areas than tornadoes, and in most coastal areas, they occur more regularly than earthquakes.
These are events to be taken very seriously. It is virtually guaranteed that extensive property damage, personal injuries, deaths, and massive disruption will result each time a hurricane collides with inhabited coastal areas.
For employers and safety professionals, that requires extensive planning, preparation, and rehearsal.
Worksites and Hurricanes
No one wants to put the brakes on their business projects. But the obvious truth is that a worksite is not able to sidestep the storm the way a fleet of ships or planes can. If the hurricane passes you by, that’s good fortune. But chances are you will be affected somehow.
Even if your worksite is thousands of miles inland and not directly in the path of a hurricane, spinoff effects like the disruption of fuel supplies, spikes in resource prices, or the redeployment of people or funds to help the rebuilding effort means that a hurricane’s effects are not limited to the immediate area.
Add to this the fact that many worksites are messy – there’s raw material, cranes, piles of supplies, temporary fencing, and scaffolding. There may be pollutants like cement dust or broken glass that can very easily take flight in those powerful winds. Even two-by-fours and rebar can become fatal projectiles in hurricane conditions
Have a Proper Plan
A worksite, whether it is an external construction site or an enclosed office, must have a plan that is reviewed semi-annually. Reviews should be scheduled so that they take place well in advance of the traditional hurricane season (June 1 through November 30 for the Atlantic and Caribbean regions) and soon afterwards. It's not enough t have a plan that is put into play the day before. Some activities should be started a week prior, even when the would-be hurricane still hasn't been upgraded from a tropical storm.
Your plan should clearly define the conditions under which it should be fully activated, and should identify the chain of command along with several methods of communication. Cellphones are not sufficient, since cell towers often suffer from storm damage and power outages. Old-fashioned land lines that are fully corded (not cordless phones) are more reliable.
Proper communications also encompasses paying constant attention to weather stations and radar to monitor potential dangerous weather and changes in a hurricane’s path and intensity. It also means making contact lists and making sure everyone fully understands them, so that all employees and contractors can receive (and confirm receipt of) emergency orders and communicate their status.
Depending on the specific nature of your worksite, superintendents should oversee the following types of actions:
- Identifying and communicating evacuation routes, muster zones, and evacuation procedures
- Reinforcing safety rules, such as banning employees from taking shelter in vehicles or trailers
- Capping pipelines and other areas that may be prone to water infiltration
- Lowering and securing crane booms and allowing tower cranes to weathervane
- Identifying, securing, or removing all loose items, including glass, metal, tools, sheds, and portable toilets
- Ensuring dumpsters are emptied or securely covered
- Provisioning safety power, from batteries for flashlights and radios to fuel for trucks and pumps
- Cutting dangerous power
- Electrical connections should be powered down, disconnected, or made secure against wind and water
- Outlying trailers should have the power turned off
- Computers should be disconnected from electrical power
- Recording the site situation
- Watch for power lines – take note of their location before the winds hit
- Photograph the site and the status of the project for project management and insurance purposes
- Backup crucial computer documents to offsite or cloud storage
- Planning security to protect against looting or organized groups who target construction sites in times of major chaos
- Assigning a damage assessment team to review the site after the storm, prioritizing cleanup and restoration, and ensuring all employees are accounted for (this may involve contacting area hospitals)
Don’t Just Stick with Plan A
It is essential to factor in contingencies. No serious safety plan should only have a Plan A. There should also be a Plan B, C, and even D, which would factor in additional challenges such as blocked or flooded primary escape routes, secondary emergencies such as explosions and fires caused by damaged neighboring factories, or the outbreak of disease and civil breakdown from extended periods of isolation.
Read Up on Recent History
Hurricanes are a fact of life. And with more and more development being constructed in storm-prone areas, they are becoming increasingly destructive. Your emergency team should take the time to read up on reports and blog posts by construction managers who have recently gone through a hurricane. Being prepared means looking ahead while also looking back.