Power Outages and Workplace Safety

Canadians have many things to be thankful for, and among them is the joy of experiencing four true seasons in all of their splendor. There are certain areas in Canada that experience seasonal weather events more frequently than others. For example, Canada is known to house tornado alley, an area of southwestern Ontario that sees more tornados than anywhere else in Canada.  That same area of Canada is also widely known for its astounding thunder and lightning storms. While most simply revel in the beauty of Mother Nature’s light display, it doesn’t come without hazards; specifically, in the form of power outages. 

Power Outages at Work

When the power goes out at home, you’re in a place of comfort and generally have strategies that you employ to hunker down until the electricity returns. However, when the power goes out at work, it gets more complicated, and the risk level associated with hazards goes way up.

How Come? When the power goes out at work, factors that ordinarily aren’t considered hazards become so. For example, customers in your store now become liabilities. Walkways, steps, and elevators all become hazards. And of course, the source of the power failure – electrical storm, strong winds, heavy rains, etc. – creates an additional emergency, which prompts the need for additional hazard controls and emergency responses.

The Power is Out at Work – What Now?

When the power goes out at your workplace, keep a cool head. It’s a common occurrence, and it’s easy to ensure that all hazards can be effectively controlled to make sure everyone remains safe until the power is back on.

Keep Calm, but Don’t Carry On:

Ensure that everyone keeps calm. Bring all customers and staff to a central location or an area with natural lighting. Do not provide light using candles! Not only does it create a massive and unnecessary fire hazard, but it also generates a lot of heat – not desirable if the air conditioning isn’t on!

Watch Your Step:

As you walk through your workplace, be sure to watch your step. Most phones are now equipped with flashlights, which is very handy during power outages. In many instances, emergency lighting will also activate, helping to guide your way. One of the most proactive things that you can do to mitigate this risk is to keep walkways clear of debris at all times, and ensure that good housekeeping practices are always enforced. 

Stay Out of the Elevator:

Although most elevators have generator backups and remain functional during a power outage, it is not recommended to use them. If you, or others at your workplace, are stuck in the elevator, follow the directions posted to contact help. Never, ever climb out of a stationary elevator!

Stay Secure!

If security is an issue, ensure that you appoint workers to keep tabs. For security measures that control shrinkage, such as anti-theft detectors at shop doors, have workers stand by exits to ensure nothing is leaving the store that shouldn’t. For security measures in places that protect people, such as jails or hospitals, follow the protocols as laid out by the administration teams there; they have to have them in place.

Prevent Spoilage and Foodborne Illness:

For workers who work with food, prevent spoilage and illness by keeping food as cool as possible. This means, limiting opening and closure of fridge and freezer doors, keeping ice chests full, and using coolers where applicable. As well, ensure that staff follow all safe food handling procedures – if it’s been in the danger zone for more than two hours, toss it! The loss of a few hundred dollars’ worth of food is not worth the risk of a customer contracting a food borne illness.

Customers May Leave; Workers Maybe Not:

If the power at your establishment goes off, customers are free to leave provided they’ve paid for merchandise, or don’t leave with any that hasn’t been paid for. In a major weather event, such as a tornado, you may recommend customers stay and hunker down with staff. For workers, it’s more complicated. Different jurisdictions have different rules about whether employees must stay during power outages, and whether they must be paid. Ensure that you know what is applicable to your jurisdiction, and follow it. For the most part, power outages aren’t long term, and it makes sense for employees to stick around in order to be ready when the electricity kicks back in.

Occupational Safety Group Can Help!

If you have questions about emergency response planning or training, please call 877.652.5262 to speak a health and safety advisor today, or visit us on the web 24/7 at osg.ca.

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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