How can My Employer Provide a Safe Workplace During Hurricane Season?

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Hurricanes and other natural disasters have caused devastating property damage, severe injuries, and fatalities in the United States, particularly in recent years when the intensity of the storms has been steadily increasing as a result of growing concerns over climate change. Although these storms cannot be prevented, the National Hurricane Center studies and tracks these storms and will notify the public when a hurricane watch or warning is in effect so that the public can take the necessary steps to stay safe and weather the storm. When a hurricane is in the forecast, employers also have a responsibility to take the appropriate precautions to ensure that their employees are safe before, during, and after a storm hits.

Hurricane season officially starts on June 1 and ends on November 30. These dangerous and destructive storms wreak havoc on coastal areas because of the high winds, flooding, heavy rains, and devastating storm surges. However, the heavy wind and rain can make its way inland and cause damage to homes, businesses, and communities that are hundreds of miles from the coast. The strongest hurricanes can have wind speeds of 155 miles per hour or more, which can uproot trees, tear the roof off a house, or even cause catastrophic damage that make homes and businesses uninhabitable. Hurricanes that have storm surges of up to 20 feet are often considered not survivable.

What Steps Should My Employer Take to Prepare for a Hurricane?

Weather forecasters, and those who study and track hurricanes and other severe weather conditions, warn that the 2020 hurricane season is going to be more active than usual. Taking the necessary steps to prepare for a devastating hurricane is crucial to ensuring that all workers remain safe until the storm passes. Employers have a responsibility to put an emergency plan in place and ensure that all employees know how to execute safely and effectively execute the plan. Employers must ensure that their emergency plan addresses key factors, including where employees should take shelter during the storm, a policy that ensures that all employees are accounted for, and plans to address specific hazards in the workplace. The following are examples of steps employers should take to prepare for a hurricane or other natural disaster:

  • Identify specific hazards. Employers need to determine the risk based on the severity of the storm; their proximity to the coastline; and the risk of flooding, strong winds, and storm surges. Once employers understand the types of wind and water hazards that are likely in their area, they can make the necessary preparations to address them and ensure that employees are safe.
  • Develop an evacuation plan. Employers will need to develop an evacuation plan based on the severity of the storm and whether the employees are in a hurricane evacuation zone. The plan should provide employees with locations where they can go to seek shelter from the storm. A copy of the evacuation plan should be stored in a safe place where it can be easily accessed in an emergency.
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers need to prepare for an emergency by ensuring that PPEs are available for all workers and provide the necessary training and ensure that all employees understand how to use the PPE for a specific type of hazard.
  • Create an emergency kit. This should include items such as gloves, eye protection, face coverings, hand sanitizer, batteries, flashlights, and chargers.
  • Check the weather forecast. Local weather forecasts provide current information about severe weather, including hurricanes. The National Weather Service provides information about weather emergencies and how residents in certain areas should respond. In extreme cases, evacuation orders may be issued. Residents are urged to take these recommendations seriously and leave immediately.
  • Evaluate the work site for specific hazards. Hurricanes and other severe storms can expose workers to serious safety hazards, including cuts and lacerations, electrocution injuries, fall-related injuries, noise, high ambient temperatures, hazardous substances, and infectious materials. Workers should drive only if it is absolutely necessary and avoid roads that are flooded, or bridges where the water level is dangerously high.

What Safety Steps Should Employers Take Following a Hurricane?

Just because the storm has passed does not mean that the safety hazards have passed with it. A major storm or hurricane can leave a range of serious safety hazards in its wake, including downed trees and electrical wires, debris, mold, and carbon monoxide. Employers should take the following proactive steps to keep the work environment as safe and hazard free as possible:

  • Utilize generators: Gas- or diesel-powered generators can help prevent exposure to carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas that is poisonous if inhaled. Sustained exposure to carbon monoxide can cause serious health complications and even death.
  • Avoid electrical hazards: Workers should avoid power lines that have been damaged or have fallen on the ground. Only trained electrical utility workers should make these types of repairs.
  • Clear fallen trees: Employers need to make sure that workers who are responsible for clearing away downed trees are using the appropriate PPE, including gloves, steel-toed boots, eye protection, and helmets. Workers who are responsible for taking down large branches near the top of a tree must use protection from falls, particularly when using chainsaws and chippers.

Be aware of chemical or biological hazards: To avoid exposure to these types of hazards, employers should urge all workers to wash hands with soap and water on a regular basis and use the appropriate PPE for the type of work that the employee is performing, including goggles, gloves, and boots.

What is an Emergency Action Plan?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), any workplace that has more than 10 employees must develop a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in order to ensure that employers and employees take the appropriate actions during an emergency. All AEPs must include the following elements:

  • Method for reporting fires, floods, hurricanes, and other emergencies
  • Evacuation procedures and assigned exit routes
  • Procedures to ensure that all employees are accounted for after an evacuation
  • Procedures that all employees must follow if they stayed behind to address critical plant operations before evacuating
  • Rescue and medical responsibilities for employees who have been trained to perform these duties
  • Contact information for individuals who can provide additional information about the plan

Although not required, it is highly recommended that EAPs also include the following:

  • How to protect employees from COVID-19 during a hurricane or other emergency
  • Locations of the closest hospital or emergency medical center
  • The type of alarm system that is used to alert employees of an emergency
  • Recommendations for storing, maintaining, and protecting important documents and records
  • Location of portable defibrillators, first aid kids, dust masks, fire extinguishers, and other important personal protective equipment, as well as instructions on how to properly use each one
  • Locations of televisions, radios, or other resources for obtaining information during a hurricane or other natural disaster

What Should I Do if I Suffered a Hurricane-Related Injury While on the Job?

Any employee who suffers a workplace injury during or after a hurricane may be eligible to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits. The first thing an injured worker must do is notify his or her employer of the injury as soon as possible, or within 10 days of the accident. The worker should provide as much information as possible, including the time and date of the accident, where the injury occurred, and the cause of the injury. The injured worker must then file a Workers’ Compensation claim on the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) website. An experienced Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyer can assist that injured worker if he or she has any questions about the claims process.

What Benefits am I Eligible to Receive?

Workers’ Compensation benefits are available to employees who have been injured at work. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, the worker may be eligible for the following benefits:

  • Medical expenses associated with the injury
  • Hospitalization costs and long-term care facility costs
  • Prescription medications
  • Lost wages
  • Disability benefits, including temporary total disability benefits, temporary partial disability benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and permanent total disability benefits

If a Workers’ Compensation claim is denied, or the injured employee does not receive the benefits that he or she deserves, the next step is to appeal the denial by requesting a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Commission. A dedicated Workers’ Compensation lawyer will help the injured worker navigate the claims process and ensure that he or she takes the appropriate steps if the claim has been denied.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Compensation for Workers Injured During a Hurricane

If you or a loved one was injured while on the job, either during or after a hurricane, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will walk you through every step of the claims process, address all of your questions and concerns, and ensure that you receive the maximum financial benefits you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.