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Like many nations, Canada is seeing an increase in the number of extreme weather events happening each year due to climate change – in 2021 alone, there were 13 catastrophic weather events causing billions of dollars in damages (Government of Canada, 2021). These events can take the form of heatwaves, wildfires, floods, extreme cold, tornadoes, hurricanes, hailstorms, or smog.
During an emergency, important decisions need to be made swiftly. A lack of resources, protocols or trained personnel can lead to panic, the consequences of which can be severe. A well-developed emergency response plan that accounts for each type of climate emergency can reduce the risk of worker injuries and incidents, and prevent or minimize damage to property, equipment, materials, and the environment.
Start with hazard identification and risk assessment
An extreme weather event may not have happened near your workplace – that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact. Climate emergencies can bring about hazards such as fires, explosions, poor air quality, building collapses, structural failures, spills, and the unintentional releases of chemicals. You may also have equipment malfunctions, loss of power and water, or stranded workers to contend with.
Perform a vulnerability assessment to identify which extreme weather events could occur in your area, then determine what the hazards and risks would be to workers and the organization if those events happened. Specific hazards and risks will depend on several factors such as location, weather trends, severity, as well as the size and type of your workplace. What are its capabilities to respond to an emergency? How does the layout of the premises factor in? Do you have ready access to emergency services under regular circumstances? Will these emergency services be available to your specific workplace in a widespread emergency?
After all the hazards have been identified for each climate emergency, conduct a risk assessment to evaluate the risks that each of these hazards pose to workers, property, and the environment. To assess risk, consider the likelihood and severity of harm or damage. This assessment will help with prioritization and resource allocation during emergency planning, and most importantly, the development of proper emergency response procedures.
For example: Do you have an area where flammables, explosives, or chemicals are used or stored? Consider the possibility that one event may trigger others. For example, a fire caused by extreme weather off-site may reach the chemical storage area. The extreme heat may cause an explosion, structural failure, and trigger other events.
Develop an emergency response plan
Once the potential risks and consequences of each climate emergency have been identified, determine the actions required to protect workers, property, and the environment.
Emergency response plans for extreme weather events should include written procedures on how to respond, along with the responsibilities of designated people. Can steps be taken to prevent or minimize the impact of an emergency? What resources will be required (such as trained personnel, fire fighting and rescue equipment, personal protective equipment, first aid supplies, communication equipment, or power generators)? Where are they located? Are potential impacts on these resources also being accounted for? Will other emergency supplies need to be provided (e.g., food and water)?
Detailed lists of emergency response personnel including their cell phone numbers, alternate contact details, and their duties and responsibilities should be readily accessible within the plan. Also include large-scale maps and/or drawings showing evacuation routes, service conduits (gas, water and wastewater lines, as well as stormwater drainage), first aid supplies, emergency equipment, and gathering areas or muster points. Mark out the designated shelter areas, and an inventory of emergency supplies.
Outline a process for checking the local weather forecast and air quality, and a communication plan for sending weather alerts to workers. Include emergency procedures for workers who may not be in the primary workplace, including those who work outside, travel, work in remote areas, work alone, or are responsible for overseeing critical processes and equipment. You’ll want to include details on how plans will be initiated and communicated with workers in the event of an emergency. Note that the usual channels of communication cannot be relied upon to function normally.
Plans should factor in how long it will take for internal and external emergency services to respond. In the event of climate emergencies, there could be a delay in response due to an increase in demand for these services. Alternately, your organization may be able to offer services to others in an emergency. Emergency planning is important from both a workplace and community perspective.
Familiarize the workplace with extreme weather protocols
Given the broad range of potential climate emergencies, the plan and protocols are likely to be contained in a substantial document. The plan should also provide workers with separate written instructions about their emergency response duties. Outline procedures on how to safely monitor, shut down or continue to operate critical processes, equipment and other devices that may cause injuries or damage in the event of a power failure or malfunction.
Ensure your emergency preparedness committee is reviewing the plan and its effectiveness regularly so it can be revised when needed.
Tips and Tools
Cases of monkeypox are increasing in Canada. While public health officials say monkeypox poses little threat to the general population, employers and workers should be aware about how this virus can spread.
Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus in the family Poxviridae, closely related to the smallpox virus. According to Health Canada, monkeypox is usually a mild illness with symptoms that include fever, chills, and muscle pain. It can evolve into skin rashes and lesions that can last for up to a month. Most people recover without treatment after a few weeks.
Monkeypox and the workplace
The monkeypox virus may be spread through personal contact with an infected person, breathing respiratory droplets produced by coughing or sneezing from an infected person, and contact with the contaminated bedsheets or clothes of a symptomatic person.
A person is considered contagious when the first symptoms appear until the scabs have fallen off on their own and the skin has healed.
People who closely interact with symptomatic individuals are at greater risk of infection. They include healthcare workers, people living in the same house, and sexual partners.
Tips for reducing the risks of exposure and infection
The most effective way to avoid contracting monkeypox is to limit exposure to infected individuals. It is currently not known if those who do not show any symptoms can spread the disease.
Perform a risk assessment in the workplace and provide current information on the virus to workers.
Workers who must be physically present with an infected individual, or touch materials the individual has been in contact with, should:
If you think you have monkeypox
Immediately contact a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of monkeypox, particularly skin eruptions, swollen lymph nodes, or have had contact with a known or suspected monkeypox case.
Facilitating safe interactions is one way to foster a mentally healthy workplace. The newly updated Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment tool can help workplace leaders strengthen their psychological health and safety efforts.
The Assessment is based on the requirement for competent leadership as described in the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
This summer the online tool was updated to with a new assessment scale and other improvements to help leaders and administrators better assess the psychological health and safety leadership in their workplace.
After completing the assessment, the development of an action plan to implement or improve specific strategies can help enhance psychologically safe leadership approaches. Many resources are provided to help organizations or leaders take action. The tool remains free of charge.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Understanding the Three Basic Rights of Workers
Every person employed in Canada has the right to a safe work environment. In this episode we discuss the three basic rights of all workers in Canada.
Podcast runs: 6:13 Listen Now
Encore Podcast: Minimizing the Risks: Health and Safety Tips for Truck Drivers
From working long days, driving long distances, and the pressures of meeting delivery deadlines, truck drivers work under unique conditions that present many health and safety challenges. In this episode, CCOHS shares steps that both employers and workers can take to minimize the health and safety risks that come with long-haul trucking.
Podcast runs: 4:21 Listen Now
Before using any chemical, it is important to understand the potential hazards associated with them. Chemicals can affect our health (damaging our organ systems and potentially causing occupational diseases) and risk our physical safety (potentially being flammable or explosive, for example). Keep chemical safety top of mind with our new infographic.
Share this resource to illustrate possible routes of exposure for chemicals, potential hazards, and what employers can do to ensure workers are protected.
If you are a woman enrolled in a post-secondary occupational health and safety program at a Canadian college or university, you may be eligible to win a $3,000 scholarship from CCOHS.
The Chad Bradley Scholarship is offered to women enrolled in either a full-time or part-time health and safety related program leading to an occupational health and safety certificate, diploma, or degree at an accredited college or university in Canada.
The deadline to apply is August 31, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Learn more about the scholarship, essay criteria, and how to apply: www.ccohs.ca/scholarships/cbradley/.
Don’t let your guard down! As summer winds down, it’s important to stay vigilant. This newly updated infographic provides guidance to help you stay protected from COVID-19 when returning from vacation or time off. Our COVID-19 Prevention for Workers page has also been updated with tips to help employees contribute to a safer workplace.
To access our COVID-19 resources anytime (online or offline), download the free Safe Work App that includes our full collection of sector-specific tip sheets, infographics, videos, and other guidance.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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