Category: Emergency Preparedness

“Just an Industrial Accident”

There have been two deadly workplace accidents in two weeks. 

  • A horrific explosion in West Texas that killed 14 and destroyed at least 40 homes. 
  • A building collapse in Bangladesh that killed at least 275 and injured hundreds more.

In both cases, a workplace incident quickly became a community tragedy.

  • In West Texas – What may have been a small fire triggered a massive explosion – an explosion several times greater than the explosion in the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • In Bangladesh – An unsafe building has become a mass grave where family members are digging through the rubble searching for loved ones.

Unfortunately, worker safety is often viewed by the press as unimportant when compared to events that are labeled as terrorist attacks.  This was clearly evident last week.  One report, when comparing the West Texas Explosion to the Boston Marathon Bombing, characterized the explosion in West Texas as “just an industrial accident.”  No readily available villain so, therefore, the event is less important. 

deathYet, statistics show that workplace incidents are often much more deadly.  In addition, the effects don’t stop at the facility boundary.  Industrial accidents also impact families and our communities.

Workplace deaths are even more worthy of our attention because they are often preventable – if there is the public will to insist that they become so.

We will not be able to stop every terrorist attack without both a massive outlay of resources and even greater intrusions into areas that were previously considered private and “off limits” in a free society.  Yet, the causes of most significant workplace incidents can be identified and addressed.  What is often missing is a societal insistence that those who can prevent workplace accidents be required to do so rather than profiting from ignoring unsafe workplace conditions.

Both a change in perspective and improved enforcement of workplace standards are needed.

Society needs to stop viewing workplace accidents as simply an acceptable risk that workers are expected to take in order to get paid for their labors.  As John Howard put it – “Earning a day’s pay should not place anyone at risk of losing life or livelihood.”

In addition, international consensus standards are needed that establish clear, transparent and enforceable requirements that organizations must meet if they want to claim recognition for providing “safe workplaces.” 

ISO is proposing such a standard be developed in its New Work Item Proposal for an Occupational Health and Safety Management System standard (click here to read more about it).  Of course more will be needed to ensure worker safety but at least the development of an ISO standard can be an initial first step – if this initiative is approved.

 © ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2013)
April 26, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Checklists Save Lives

Checklists are essential to successful business operations.  Checklists are an integral part of an occupational health and safety management system.  More importantly, checklists save lives.

 This result is most obvious in medicine where the use of surgical checklists has saved thousands of lives and untold suffering. The importance of checklists in medicine was highlighted in a 2007 article in the New Yorker Magazine, The Checklist. The most dramatic of these incentives is the international adoption of a one-page Surgical Safety Checklist developed, promoted and disseminated by the World Health Organization.

Click here to download a copy of this checklist. 


There are numerous uses of checklists in OH&S management systems.  In fact, checklists are one of the most effective way of creating management system procedures and work instructions to meet the OHSAS 18001 requirements. 

Some of the OH&S uses of checklists include –

  1. Inspection checklists – for forklift trucks, fire extinguishers and other safety-critical devices, equipment and supplies.
  2. Plans and permits – for confined space entry, hot work and equipment lockout where the sequence of tasks and adequacy of precautions are critical.
  3. Emergency preparedness – for making sure equipment, materials and personnel will be ready and available when an incident occurs.
  4. Risk assessments – for evaluating the hazards and risks associated with materials, equipment and tasks.
  5. Internal audit protocols – for making sure that OHSMS audits are complete, inclusive and cost-effective.

As regulations, activities and organizations become more complex, checklists become increasingly important for ensuring that nothing is missed.  This is why pilot checklists were developed in aviation in the 1930s.  This is why surgical checklists are being aggressively promoted in medicine today.  This is why most OH&S management systems would benefit from the use of appropriately-designed checklists. 

In my next blog, I will cover the 5 steps you should follow in order to develop good OHSMS checklists.

In the meantime, click here to request a copy of my EHSMS Implementation Checklist.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2011)
August 10, 2011 | 1 Comment More

Launching an OHSMS

Last Monday, I watched as Atlantis lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center.  Living in Florida, I heard the sonic boom as it returned early Thursday morning.  I watched on TV as it landed for the last time.

I am saddened by the end of shuttle program and the associated loss of jobs.  Some of those impacted are fellow safety and health professionals. They are friends of mine who have participated in my training programs and helped me by providing references when I have asked.

As I watched the launch, I was struck by the discipline imposed by the formalized processes NASA uses to ensure safety.  The launch was momentarily paused – with only 31 seconds to go – to double check that the GOX Vent Arm had properly retracted and latched.  This was confirmed visually using a closed circuit camera while those watching the launch waited in suspense. 

This is what an occupational health and safety management system is all about.  It is putting processes in place, and using them, to ensure safety.  Many organizations write procedures and checklists.  World-class organizations use them – even when the whole world is watching.

Want help in launching your own management system?  Click here to go the webpage where you can request your copy of ENLAR’s EHSMS Implementation Checklist. 

As a special tribute to the NASA Shuttle Program, I am making it available for FREE for the next month. 

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2011)
July 26, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Lessons from Haiti

The on-going crisis in Haiti is a stark reminder of the importance of disaster preparedness.  Both OHSAS 18001 and ISO 14001 require that an organization establish, implement and maintain procedures to “identify the potential for emergency situations” in order to be ready and prepared to respond to these situations when they arise (section 4.4.7).

I have been working for several years with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council to help local businesses prepare for disasters.  In our area, the Florida west coast, the disaster we fear is a major hurricane.  As part of these efforts, we developed and presented a series of interactive workshops covering emergency planning, risk assessment and disaster preparedness. 

If you want to be prepared, the following points are key –

January 22, 2010 | 0 Comments More

The Alarm Just Went Off…Now What?

There seems to be a renewed interest in metrics, measuring and monitoring within OH&S management systems.  Given the advances in continuous monitoring technology, this interest often translates into the installation of a host of different monitoring devices with alarms – fire detection alarms, security alarms, gas detection alarms, motion sensor alarms, electrical current alarms, high level alarms, low level alarms, entry alarms, exit alarms, etc. 

One of the challenges associated with all of these alarms – “What are you supposed to do when the alarm goes off?”

Since my husband is at the top of the call list when an alarm goes off at his facility, I am only too familiar with this question – particularly since the “alarm alert” often occurs in the wee hours of the morning  (as it did this morning).  I can tell you attempting to answer the “now what?” question at 4 am is no fun.

October 15, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Challenges & Opportunities in Developing OHSMS Standards

This week I had the opportunity to attend and give a presentation at the NIOSH NORA Health Care and Social Assistance Sector Council Meeting in Washington DC.  It was the first NIOSH NORA meeting I have attended and I found the discussion both very enlightening and somewhat scary.

At this meeting I gave a presentation – Challenges & Opportunities in Developing OHSMS Standards – that outlined five common barriers to implementing Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.  Also giving presentations on this topic were Mike Seymour from OSHA and Barbara Braun from The Joint Commission.  Mike Seymour discussed the OHSMS guidance document that OSHA is currently in the process of developing and Barbara Braun discussed how the Joint Commission standards also include worker safety requirements.  As several of the attendees pointed out, there is a clear and obvious link between patient safety and worker safety.

The purpose of these presentations was to assist the HCSA Sector Council in developing implementation plans for the new National Occupational Research Agenda for this sector (currently out for public comment until the end of October 2009).  A key strategic goal in this agenda is promoting the use of OH&S management systems and improving safety culture in healthcare organizations.

The scary part of the meeting…

The critical issues that need to be addressed to protect health care workers – particularly as it relates to the H1N1 pandemic.  There was a great deal of discussion concerning the precautions that need to be taken related to providing proper respiratory protection – NOT JUST SURGICAL MASKS – and the current lack of hospital preparedness.  The importance of this topic was emphasized by the advisory issued by the Institute of Medicine yesterday that urges health care workers to use N95 respirators instead of surgical masks for protection.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2009) 
September 4, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Risk Management & the 4th of July

I spent the 4th of July at Disney.  It was the first time I have been to Disney in several years.  The fireworks display was truly impressive.  After the fireworks were over, we made our way back to our hotel using Disney’s transit system.   I was once again struck by Disney’s ability to efficiently manage large crowds of people.

Disney Fireworks

Disney Fireworks

Unfortunately, early Sunday morning tragedy struck Disney’s transit system when two monorail trains collided – killing one of the train operators.  According to news reports, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently conducting an investigation into this accident. 

I was contemplating this accident – and the resulting negative publicity for Disney – as I reviewed the latest draft of ISO 31000 – ISO’s newly developed Risk Management standard.

One of the weaknesses of many risk management programs is failing to fully evaluate the risks associated with events that are rare (low likelihood) but with the potential for severe (highly negative) consequences.  In Section 5.5.2, ISO 31000 suggests that such events may warrant risk treatment even when it appears that action may not be justifiable on strictly economic grounds.  The typical assumption being that the event will never happen; therefore, the time and money expended to evaluate and address the risk will be wasted.

This monorail accident appears to be this type of an event. 

It was clearly rare.  According to Disney, this is the first fatal crash in the 38-year history of the monorail’s operation.   

Yet, the consequences of this accident are likely to be severe –

  • death of an employee
  • reduced confidence in – and utilization of – the transit system by guests
  • the costs incurred associated with an OSHA fatality investigation – even if no fines are imposed
  • negative publicity for a company that is very concerned about maintaining a positive public image

Take ISO 31000’s advice to heart in your own risk management programs – including the risk assessments conducted to meet the requirements of OHSAS 18001.  Be sure that your low likelihood risks are evaluated – including those associated with abnormal or unusual activities.  As the accident at Disney proved, just because an event hasn’t happened yet, that doesn’t mean it may not happen tomorrow.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2009)

July 7, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Let’s Not Kill Our Responders

June 1 marked the beginning of the 2008 Hurricane Season.  Both individuals and organizations in Florida are being urged to review and update their emergency plans to ensure we are ready in case a serious storm comes our way this year.  There are articles in the paper on ensuring that our pets are save, putting together our “Grap-and-Go Kits” and hurricane-proofing our landscaping.


So what does that have to do with an occupational safety and health management system?


A great deal, as it turns out.


As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the annual AIHce two weeks ago.  The keynote speaker on Wednesday morning was Dr. Robin Herbert.  She is the director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program Data and Coordination Center with the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, New York.


Her presentation covered, in sometimes graphic detail, the on-going health impacts to those who responded to the World Trade Center (WTC) attack on 9/11.  This includes both physical and psychological health effects — including respiratory disease, stomach problems and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Some of these effects are the result of the fact that individuals worked long hours, ate their meals and slept outdoors at the site — in effect having 24/7 exposure to a toxic environment.


Dr. Herbert ended her presentation with a list of recommendations that every organization should consider in their annual review of their emergency plan to prevent future impacts to the health of their emergency workers and first responders:

  • Ensure that each person has, and is trained to use, appropriate personal protective equipment

  • Include the steps (and supplies) necessary to define a “boundary” around areas that are not safe and limit access to those areas

  • Limit the time individuals spend in emergency response and in areas with unsafe exposures

  • Record the name of each individual who participates in the emergency response in case future follow-up is needed

  • Take action to prevent and address psychological as well as physical trauma

Just as we have learned for confined space entry, we need to be aware that emergency response to disaster events can kill or maim responders.  We need to have plans in place to prevent this from happening — before the disaster occurs.  In other works – we need to include emergency response as part of an OH&S management system.


© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2008)

June 16, 2008 More

A “Black Hole” in the Sky

Yesterday, the air traffic control system in Memphis went down.  At the time, there were over 200 planes in the air space controlled by the Memphis center.

There were no plane crashes — no one died. Why?

A report on ABC Evening News last night highlighted two key reasons — pre-planning and the availability of an alternate means of communication.

The FAA has a contingency plan in place to address the loss of air traffic control at a particular location by diverting control to other centers — pre-planning.  Individual air traffic controllers used their personal cell phones to contact other air traffic control locations — an alternate means of communication.

Within one hour, planes were diverted around the Memphis air space creating what one commentator described as “a black hole in the sky.”

In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of emergency preparedness in an occupational safety and health management system.  Having procedures in place so you are prepared when things go wrong (including telecommunication and computer failures) is a key requirement of OHSAS 18001.  More importantly, it saves lives.

For the last year and a half, I have been working with the local emergency planning committee (LEPC) conducting workshops for local businesses and emergency responders to assist them with business continuity planning in regional disasters.  We have focused our outreach to organizations that handle significant quantities of hazardous materials.

During these workshops, two critical needs keep coming up.

Know what they are?

Adequate pre-planning (being prepared) and a functioning communication system.

As one attendee in our workshops put it, “As long as you have a plan and can talk, you can figure the rest out.”

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2007)

September 27, 2007 More

Emergency Preparedness Requirements of OHSAS 18001:2007

Emergency Preparedness is an integral part of an occupational health and safety management system.  OHSAS 18001:2007 requires that procedures be put in place to both identify and respond to potential emergency situations.

What is an emergency?

According to the dictionary – it is an unexpected occurence requiring immediate action.

One of the critical parts of being prepared for emergencies is the anticipation of the unexpected.  One way of accomplishing this “anticipation” is to include it as an explicit part of your hazard identification and risk assessment processes.  As you are identifying hazards, ask – “What if ….”  The answer may surprise you.

September 4, 2007 More