Workplace emergency preparedness must cover a wide range of potential threats, from daily hazards to natural disasters. Wildfires are particularly dangerous events, capable of causing widespread property damage, injury, and death. Wildfires are also unpredictable; with little warning they can grow into dangerous conflagrations, the direction of which is determined by both combustible material availability and wind direction.
Workplace fire safety training is essential if your business is in a location where wildfires are a risk. Don't dismiss the danger just because your business is located in an urban area--wildfires have swept through towns in the past, and will do so in the future.
Your Responsibilities as an Employer
As with any other workplace-related hazard, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees during a wildfire, and required to protect against risks associated with any wildfire response and recovery involving employees, including contact with and cleanup of hazardous materials.
Wildfire Evacuation Plans
While no amount of workplace emergency preparedness fully eliminates the risk posed by a serious wildfire, you can take steps to protect your employees and mitigate damage caused by the fire. Employee safety is, of course, of primary importance both during a wildfire and throughout your response to wildfire damage.
Have a wildfire evacuation plan in place before a wildfire occurs. Your plan helps prevent confusion or injuries during an evacuation, as well as helping identify key personnel who need workplace wildfire safety training.
Your evacuation plan should include the following:
- Specific conditions that activate the plan, such as wildfire size, proximity, and direction.
- The chain of command during an evacuation.
- A list of emergency functions and the employees assigned to them.
- Procedures to account for personnel, customers, or site visitors.
- Appropriate safety equipment for personnel.
Wildfire evacuation plans should be regularly reviewed with staff as part of your larger workplace emergency preparedness program, with workplace wildfire safety training offered to all staff.
Creating a safe zone around your business helps protect people and property from the threat of wildfires. The safe zone should be at least thirty-feet around the business, although OSHA recommends a seventy-foot zone if possible.
Remove all combustible material within the zone, and keep vegetation to a minimum. Clear any branches of shrubs within fifteen feet of stovepipes or chimneys, and remove all vines on business walls. If trees require pruning, hire a qualified tree trimmer.
Mow grass frequently in the safety zone, or replace it with either gravel or less combustible ground cover.
Once the danger of the fire has passed, you'll need to respond to any damage. Certain tasks, such as search and rescue, utility restoration, and dealing with hazardous chemicals, should only be performed by properly trained employees with the correct personal protective equipment.
Fire is not the only hazard associated with wildfire recovery. In addition, employees may be exposed to:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Confined space hazards
- Electrical hazards (including downed power lines),
- Extreme heat
- Hazardous material response
- Heavy equipment hazards
- Lifting injuries
- Outdoor work risks
- Respiratory hazard
- Rodents, snake, insects and other displaced wildlife
- Slips, trips, and falls.
- Unstable structures
- Worker fatigue
Workplace emergency preparedness should cover all such hazards, offering training where appropriate. Many of the risks associated with wildfire recovery are common enough workplace issues your general safety program should already cover them, allowing you to assign trained, experienced employees to specific wildfire recovery tasks.