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Tornado Preparedness In the Workplace

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FEMA has announced that March is Severe Weather Preparedness month. Preparedness involves a continuous process of planning, equipping, training and exercising.  This should be a part of your workplace emergency action plan.

Planning for tornadoes and other severe weather requires identifying a place to take shelter, being familiar with and monitoring your community’s warning system, and establishing procedures to account for individuals in the building. Employers may need to obtain additional equipment and/or resources depending on the severe weather hazards that exist in the area. In addition, workers need to be trained and plans need to be practiced for ensuring that personnel are familiar with what to do in the event of severe weather.  Tornadoes are a common severe weather occurrence throughout most of the country during the spring and summer months.  Let’s review some actions employers can take for tornado preparedness in the workplace to ensure their employees' safety.

Planning

Identifying Tornado Shelter Locations

An underground area, such as a basement or storm cellar, provides the best protection from a tornado. If an underground shelter is unavailable, consider the following:

  • Seek a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible
  • Stay away from doors, windows, and outside walls
  • Stay in the center of the room, and avoid corners because they attract debris
  • Rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick or block with no windows and a heavy concrete floor or roof system overhead
  • Avoid auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums that have flat, wide-span roofs.

Personnel should also be aware of what to do if caught outdoors when a tornado is threatening. Seek shelter in a basement or a sturdy building. If one is not within walking distance, try to drive in a vehicle, using a seat belt, to the nearest shelter. If flying debris is encountered while in a vehicle, there are two options:

1) staying in the vehicle with the seat belt on, keeping your head below the windows and covering it with your hands or a blanket, or

2) if there is an area which is noticeably lower than the roadway, lie in that area and cover your head with your hands.

Accountability procedures

The following steps are recommended to help ensure the safety of employees if a tornado occurs:

  • Develop a system for knowing who is in the building in the event of an emergency
  • Establish an alarm system to warn workers
    • Test systems frequently
    • Develop plans to communicate warnings to personnel with disabilities or who do not speak English
  • Account for employees, visitors, and customers as they arrive in the shelter
  • Use a prepared roster or checklist
    • Take a head count

Assign specific duties to workers in advance; create checklists for each specific responsibility. Designate and train workers' alternates in case the assigned person is not there or is injured.

Warning Systems

Tornado Watch:  Tornadoes are likely to occur in the watch area. Be ready to act quickly and take shelter, and check supply kits. Monitor radio and television stations for more information.

Tornado Warning:  Imminent threat - A tornado has been sighted in the area or has been indicated by radar. Take shelter immediately.

Your local emergency management office can provide information about your community’s tornado warning system.

Do I need an emergency action plan for my business OSHA safety manual?  Some businesses are required to have an Emergency Action Plan meeting the safety compliance program requirements under OSHA 29 CFR 1910.38.  Though Emergency Action Plans primarily involve evacuations, emergency planning for tornadoes involve identifying safe places of refuge for workers to go to in the event of tornadoes.  If you need any assistance with determining your compliance safety requirements, training for safety, or preparing your emergency action plan, please contact us.  Learn more about Emergency Action Planning.  Get help in preparing a emergency evacuation plan map.

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