Disclaimer: This scenario is not based on any specific incident. 

It was a routine chemical delivery. The driver accessed the unloading area and put on his personal protective equipment (PPE). He listened to the operator, connected the hose, followed his processes to check for leaks, and then opened the valve to discharge the chemical into the cargo tank.   

About 15 minutes later, a gas began releasing from the tank and formed a greenish-yellow cloud. The driver had inadvertently connected the hose to the incorrect valve. The result: 140 workers and members of the public required medical assistance, thousands in the area had to shelter in place, and others were evacuated. 

Emergency incidents are unpredictable. They can occur at any time and on any job site. Whether natural or man-made, emergencies can threaten workers and the public, disrupt operations, or cause physical damage to an environment.    

Advanced preparation is critical to being ready to respond to an emergency. However, the steps you take after the incident are equally important. In emergency management, this is referred to as the Recovery stage. Recovery activities include preventing employee stress, restoring regular working activities, and reevaluating your processes for efficacy. 

First, it’s critical to think about your people after an incident. When workers respond to an emergency, they may experience critical incidents, such as death or serious injury.  Critical incidents cause physical and psychological stress that can strain a worker’s ability to do a job.  

Signs of critical incident stress range from physical symptoms to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Look for worker reactions like fear, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, nightmares, poor concentration, grief, depression, and withdrawal. Stress related to critical incidents can last from 48 hours to four weeks in some cases.  

Restoring work activities after an emergency incident requires assessing damage to the job site and identifying any new safety issues that may have resulted from the event. As working activities are restored, it’s also important for safety managers to look back on the event and learn from it. Auditing safety programs following an emergency lets managers identify where the safety program worked well and where it can be improved.  

While every job site and emergency incident is different and must be uniquely approached, best practices for managers include: 

1. Remain in control. Be visible.  
2. Get management support. Keep the focus on people. Solve the most important problems first. 
3. Be empathetic. Show workers that you care. Encourage workers to share painful thoughts and feelings. 
4. Share information when it’s available.  
5. Get back to the daily routine. This can bring comfort and help employees deal with trauma.  

      Being prepared to recover after an emergency can help you manage employee stress and return to normal operating procedures faster. TPC can help by providing safety management tools and through delivering safety training courses.   


      About the author:

      Taylor Sikes is a safety professional with over 15 years of experience. He has served as an OSHA-authorized trainer for construction and general industry, holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Georgia, and has authored numerous courses in workplace safety.


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