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Tornado Preparedness in the Workplace: Keeping Employees Safe

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Last weekend, 35 confirmed (and 44 reported) tornadoes tore through nine states, including Missouri. The predicted economic impact is the costliest in U.S. history and is expected to reach an estimated $18 billion in total damage and loss. As horrific as the economic loss is, it's just the tip of the iceberg. The deadly twisters claimed the lives of 88 people and counting. According to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, at least 109 residents are still unaccounted for in the State of Kentucky. 

While equally devastating for all involved, no area was hit harder than Maysfield. The small town in Kentucky now being referred to as a war zone, fell victim to a large tornado that barreled through last Friday. Among the rubble in Maysfield was a local candle factory, owned by Maysfield Consumer Products. In order to meet consumer demands for Christmas, the candle factory had been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Providing some hope and relieving news, company representatives say 102 of the 110 employees who were working in the factory at the time of the tornado are alive and accounted for, illustrating the importance of disaster preparedness in the workplace.

If your business were hit by a tornado tonight, would your workers be prepared? Here’s how employers can keep their workplaces and employees safe in the event of a tornado.

Related: Recovering from Disaster, 7 Steps for Protecting Your Business' Most Important Assets >>

Tornado Season

While tornadoes can occur at any time and anywhere in the U.S., December is not the time of year most people expect them to occur. In fact, most occur during the months of March, April and May, often referred to as “Tornado Season”. In fact, 55% of annual tornadoes occur during these months. But it isn’t just the volume of tornadoes that make this time of year so dangerous, the intensity is at its peak as well, resulting in more fatalities and damage.

How To Prepare for a Tornado at Work

Oftentimes, tornadoes strike without warning making knowing all the signs and being prepared a must to help reduce the likelihood of employee injuries or fatalities.

  • Develop a Disaster Preparedness Plan
    Unfortunately, most businesses do not have a “game plan” in their employee handbook for worst-case scenarios, like tornadoes. But without a disaster preparedness plan, it may mean negligence on your behalf, which equates to liability and possible lawsuits. Find out what to consider when creating your business’ emergency plan in this popular blog post. New call-to-action
  • Select a Safe Place 
    Know where employees will go in all situations. While the safest place is in an underground tornado shelter or basement, sometimes it’s not an option. According to the Red Cross, other places to go when a tornado warning has been issued include:
     
    • A small, windowless, interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building (next safest option).

    • Stay away from doors, windows, and outdoor walls.

    • Avoid auditoriums, gymnasiums or cafeteria-style rooms which usually have a large flat root.

    • For employees who routinely work outdoors or in a building that isn’t sturdy, they should seek an underground shelter or sturdy building immediately upon warning and should never wait until they see a tornado. If they can safely drive to shelter, they should do so, but should never try to outrun a tornado.

    • If outdoor workers are unable to get to a sturdy building or shelter and have access to a vehicle, they should be advised to get into one, buckle in and put their head down between their legs, lower than the vehicle windows with both hands over the back of the head*.

    • The National Weather Service advises travelers to lie down in the ditch with both hands over the back of the head. The idea is to be lower than the debris that is flying around as most tornado injuries are from being struck by flying debris.

    • When employees are traveling or working outdoors and weather conditions are favorable for tornadoes, a safe spot should be identified before the start of the workday.

  • Conduct Regularly Scheduled Tornado Drills
    Employees should know what the alarm system will be, how they are notified, and where to seek shelter.

    Related: When Disaster Strikes, Eight Steps to Prepare Your Business >>

  • Know the Signs
    A tornado may be forming or approaching if you notice any of these signs:
    • Dark, often greenish-colored sky
    • Wall cloud
    • Cloud of debris
    • Large hail or heavy rain followed by a dead calm
    • Funnel cloud (visible rotation in the cloud base)
    • Roaring noise

  • Monitor the Local Weather
    If severe weather is predicted for your area creating conditions favorable for tornadoes, the local news or the National Weather Service should be monitored for watches and warnings. Employees should be regularly updated on weather conditions via email, text or other methods. Always have a primary communication method and a secondary method.

  • Understand the Difference Between a Tornado Watch and Warning
    • Tornado Watch: A tornado has not been spotted yet, but conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and near the watch area. Watches are generally issued for broad areas.

    • Tornado Warning: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Go immediately to a basement, storm shelter, or interior room. Warnings are generally issued for highly localized areas.

  • Understand How Your Local Community Warning System Works
    While community warning systems help to alert of a possible tornado, sirens should never be the sole warning system used by your workplace.

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How to Respond in the Aftermath of a Tornado at Work

  • Gather in a Safe Spot
    Once the tornado has passed, employees should know where to gather and how you will communicate with them.

  • Complete a HeadCount
    Use a roster or checklist to account for employees, customers and/or visitors.

  • Check Employees for Injuries
    If a worker is severely injured, seek medical assistance immediately. Never move a severely injured person unless they would be in severe danger of further injuries if not moved.

  • Continue to Monitor the Local News and Weather
  • Always Wear Adequate Protective Gear When Handling or Moving Through Debris
  • Be on the Alert for the Smell of Gas
    Report possible broken gas lines to the utility company immediately.

  • Watch Out for Fallen Power Lines
  • Stay Out of Damaged Buildings
  • Photograph Damage for Insurance Claims

Workplace Safety

According to OSHA, employers are responsible for the safety and health of their workers and for providing a safe and healthful workplace. Employers are required to protect workers from the anticipated hazards associated with severe weather events, like tornadoes.

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Written by Randy Clayton