Protect Your Employees and Your Business from Wildfires

FireDriving through Bastrop County in Central Texas, it’s hard to miss the charred remains of the 2011 wildfire that ravaged the area. The blaze claimed two lives, racked up more than $300 million in property damage, destroyed thousands of acres in Bastrop State Park, and went down as the worst wildfire in Texas’ history.

Experts point to unusually strong winds and a record drought as the fire’s primary causes.

Texans have enjoyed a bit of a reprieve from those blistering conditions during the past two years. Still, this week’s blaze in Smithville serves as a sobering reminder that wildfires can strike suddenly, without warning.  Texas Mutual recommends these tips for protecting your business and your employees.

Make a plan
Having a response and evacuation plan in place before a wildfire occurs can help avoid confusion and prevent injuries. Knowing when to stay and fight a fire and when to evacuate can mean the difference between survival and serious injury or death.  Protecting property is never worth placing people in danger.

A thorough evacuation plan should include:

  • Conditions that will activate the plan
  • Chain of command
  • Emergency functions and who will perform them
  • Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits
  • Procedures for accounting for personnel, customers and visitors
  • Equipment for personnel
  • Review the plan with workers

In the aftermath of a wildfire, workers may be involved in response and recovery operations. Some operations, such as utility restoration, cleaning up hazardous material spills, and search and rescue, should only be conducted by workers who have the proper training, equipment and experience.

Know what to do during a wildfire
If there is not enough time to evacuate, or if workers are caught in circumstances where they cannot follow the evacuation plan, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) offers guidance on what to do during a wildfire. The site includes tips on what to do if you are in a vehicle, in a residence or out in the open:

  • FEMA Texas Regional Office: (940) 898-5104
  • Texas Division of Emergency Management: (512) 424-2138

Cleanup Hazards
Wildfire cleanup operations carry their own hazards. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration website addresses common hazards associated with wildfires and highlights precautions for workers:

Respiratory protection may be necessary in all phases of fire cleanup. Regardless of the task performed, use only filter masks and respirators approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health for ash, soot and other particles common during cleanup.

Chemicals and other hazardous materials present during cleanup  may require a higher level of respiratory protection. Cleanups with potential lead, asbestos or mold contamination typically require a class 100 filter with a negative pressure respirator or a powered air purifying respirator with high-efficiency filters. OSHA has specific respiratory requirements for lead and asbestos that define respiratory selection criteria.

Resources
OSHA’s Wildfire page: http://www.osha.gov/dts/wildfires/index.html

Additional Resources: http://www.osha.gov/dts/wildfires/additional.html

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