Guide to Disaster Safety and Preparedness on Construction Sites

December 29, 2023

Natural disasters, such as tropical storms, hurricanes, and floods, have cost the United States billions of dollars since 1980 in physical damage and business disruptions.

When a disaster hits a construction site, it can cause significant project delays, destroy valuable equipment, and lead to contract disputes. It also puts workers’ lives at risk and may lead to serious injuries or loss of life. In other words, a natural disaster can devastate a construction business if it’s unprepared.

If you’re a project manager, contractor, or other stakeholder, you must ensure you and your workers are prepared for disasters to mitigate risks. Developing an emergency action plan is the first step.

Creating an Emergency Action and Response Plan for Construction Sites

An emergency action plan (EAP) is a written document that instructs workers on how to act in an emergency such as a natural disaster. A well-organized, comprehensive EAP helps protect workers’ safety, reduce damage to equipment and materials, and promote a quick recovery.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a business must have a written EAP accessible to workers if they have more than 10 employees. Otherwise, an oral EAP suffices.

Regardless of OSHA requirements, it’s essential to have an EAP to minimize damage and delays in an emergency. The following steps will help you create a thorough EAP that exceeds OSHA standards.

Perform a Risk Assessment

First, perform a risk assessment to know what to include in your EAP. A risk assessment involves identifying and analyzing potential hazards. It requires considering everything that could go wrong in an emergency and the consequences of these scenarios.

A risk assessment looks different for every project and is an ongoing process since construction sites are always changing. That said, it should cover the following:

  • Assets to account for, including employees, equipment, materials, and technology
  • All potential sources of emergencies, including natural disasters and workplace hazards
  • Financial and legal consequences of emergency scenarios

As you perform a risk assessment, ask employees for their input. They might contribute scenarios unique to their roles that could have been overlooked.

Identify Resources

After identifying potential hazards, determine the personnel resources you’ll need to respond to emergencies. List your contacts in your EAP and include their information so employees can find them quickly. Resources may include:

  • Local emergency responders
  • Project managers, vendors, suppliers, and any other stakeholder

Be sure your EAP also includes where to find on-site resources, such as food and water supplies, fire extinguishers, and first-aid kits.

Create a Communication System

On-site staff need to know how they’ll communicate with each other in an emergency. Natural disasters can impact power lines and cell towers, so it’s critical to have alternative communication methods, like keeping two-way radios on-site. Ensure your EAP includes where staff can find these devices and how to use them. 

Workers also need to know how to reach external resources. In addition to listing emergency phone numbers in your EAP, make sure they’re placed strategically throughout the construction site. 

Lastly, according to OSHA, an alarm system must be in place to prompt workers to act. Each alarm should represent different hazards, and workers must know what each means. Your EAP can describe what alarms are on-site, what they signify, and how staff should respond.

Develop Emergency Procedures

Employees must know what to do in an emergency before it happens so they can act quickly when it does. The following tips can help you cover your bases:

  • Ensure your EAP includes evacuation or shelter-in-place procedures for every hazard you’ve identified.
  • Have copies of your EAP at various locations on-site so it’s always within reach.
  • Post evacuation maps throughout your site to guide workers to an exit if necessary. 

It’s also best to have a plan for preparing equipment if a storm is on the way. This may include securing and covering machinery or relocating certain pieces before severe weather arrives. These steps can minimize the risk of damage to machinery and further preserve worker safety on construction sites.

Note that you must customize your EAP to your work site and location. For instance, if your site is located in a hurricane-prone area, make sure you have emergency procedures corresponding to the specific risks associated with that weather event. With that in mind, your EAP must be site-specific.

Assign Roles and Train Workers

An EAP is only effective if workers know how to implement it. Part of your plan must include reviewing the EAP with employees, assigning roles, and training workers accordingly.

It’s essential to select employees who will act as leaders and help other workers evacuate. All employees must clearly understand their duties and know who will lead them in an emergency. This measure will prevent confusion and increase the chances of each procedure being carried out as planned.

OSHA outlines what an EAP must include related to various employee roles, such as:

  • Procedures for contacting emergency responders and ordering evacuations
  • Procedures for shutting down utilities and equipment before evacuating
  • Guidelines for performing medical duties
  • Names and numbers of employees who can provide more information about designated duties
  • Steps for ensuring all employees have evacuated and are accounted for 

You must also review your EAP with designated employees whenever you update or change the plan.

Know What to Do After Disaster Strikes

Your EAP should equip you to make decisions quickly in the aftermath so you can recover and get the project up and running again. Steps in this stage may include:

  • Contacting resources to help you recover, such as a water removal service
  • Taking photos and video of the damage and documenting them in writing
  • Calling your insurance company, if applicable
  • Contacting a consultant to assess damages and review or renegotiate a contract if needed

Contact Spire Consulting Group for Disaster Planning and Recovery

Preparing your construction site for a disaster can be complex, from uncovering all potential risks to developing effective mitigation strategies. At Spire Consulting Group, our experts understand the challenges of disaster planning and risk management and are ready to help.

We offer tailored construction consulting services to guide project managers, contractors, and other stakeholders through every project phase.

With our risk management services, for example, our experts use their extensive industry knowledge to identify and analyze all risks that could cause project delays. Our team then develops risk response actions and pinpoints opportunities to improve an existing EAP.

We also help businesses recover from disasters with our damage assessment and quantification services. We assist you through every stage of recovery, from determining complete damages for insurance reimbursement to resolving complicated disputes.

Let our multidisciplinary team assist you in navigating the complexities of disaster planning and recovery so you can focus on your project’s success. Connect with us today for more information.

The content included in this article is for informational purposes only and does not reflect the opinions or recommendations expressed by any individual unless otherwise stated.

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