Personnel e.bulletin – June 2012

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Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.

Business emergencies take many forms. Mother Nature may be venting her fury on your operating area in the form of earthquakes, tornados, flooding, electrical storms, blizzards, or ice storms. Terrorist threats, rapid spread of contagious disease or just an accident or sudden illness may place unique demands upon your employees as well as generating unique customer needs for service.

Because of the vital nature of the services that PHCC members provide, your customers will look to your business to be part of the solution to the problems created by particular emergencies. Are you prepared? Are there systems in place to protect employees and customers, to maintain continuity of operations, to protect resources, to remain in compliance with applicable federal and state regulations; thereby maintaining your unique standard of service levels?

The importance of emergency planning is emphasized by the OSHA requirement that facilities with ten or more employees have a written emergency action plan (EAP – not to be confused with an Employee Assistance Program). Organizations with fewer than ten employees should also have an EAP but it may be communicated orally to workers without stepping out of compliance with the OSHA requirement.

Protecting People
Under normal operating circumstances, most businesses have safety net programs in place to meet basic welfare needs of employees and customers. Health, life, accident and workers compensation insurance programs protect employees. Liability insurance, licensing, bonding and compliance with local permit requirements protect both customers and employees. Proper pre-hire screening, including drug and background checks, help ensure that employees will treat customers appropriately. Proper maintenance of equipment and vehicles protects the safety of employees and customers.

But what happens under extraordinary circumstances? Who takes the decision-making lead at the worksite? At headquarters? Is that individual appropriately trained to assess and respond to such compromised safety conditions as haz-mat accidents, injuries, sudden illnesses, leadership voids, communications failures, technical failures, and the like?

Human safety and basic needs in emergency situations will be better protected if a strong EAP does the following:

  1. Defines the nature of anticipated emergencies and the challenges that may be presented.
  2. Identifies the individual(s) authorized to take a leadership role in emergency circumstances.
  3. Provides identified leaders with relevant training to meet emergencies such as CPR, first aid, equipment failure, fire, flood, etc.
  4. Establishes a communications plan for closing notifications, accident reporting, and employee status reports (“I’m ok” check-ins).
  5. Provide communications capability such as cell phones, walkie-talkies or radios to maintain contact when the grid is compromised.
  6. Establishes capabilities to maintain safety of such basic employee needs as equipment, vehicles, protective gear, etc.
  7. Establishes processes and systems to maintain continuity of employee pay cycles.
  8. Addresses FLSA-related pay issues under such circumstances as office closings, work stoppage, discontinued projects, etc.
  9. Avoids lapses of insurance policies due to delayed payments.
  10. Provides employees with “people protection” related training.


Key Management Continuity

Imagine this scene – the business owner falls off a ladder and is admitted to the hospital for what will be at least a month’s stay. What happens next? Who will sign paychecks on Friday?

The business owner and key management team are vital to the maintenance of daily operations. But an accident or serious illness may suddenly create a void in the management structure of your business, constituting a unique and serious emergency situation. Without proper planning, the organization may experience a period of “drifting” until leadership can be restored. Strong organizations anticipate this need by installing and periodically updating a management succession plan.

Consultant Jack Shand tells us that a solid succession plan contains the following basic elements:

  1. Identification of the key position(s) for which succession planning is vital to the operational continuity of the business.
  2. Identification of the logical successor(s) – individuals with the knowledge, skill, potential and interest to take on leadership responsibilities.
  3. Up-to-date outline of the requirements of the job(s) in question.
  4. Process for providing development activities for identified individuals to ensure that key competencies are in place.
  5. Key person development progress analysis.
  6. Outline of steps to be taken at the immediate outset of a leadership transition including communication/notification steps, provisions for interim leadership as necessary, and ensuring the continuation of key financial operations including payroll and check writing.

Keeping employees safe also forms the bedrock of a plan that is geared toward maintaining operational continuity in extraordinary circumstances. Employees comprise an organization’s core resource, without them, service could not be provided. The systems that employees rely on must be protected in an emergency too. Power outages and other utility failures could render those systems useless, necessitating work-a-rounds for key functions and a delay in problem solving. A strong EAP will address the following:

  1. Data protection – equipment maintenance, back up and security against hacking.
  2. Communications capabilities – equipment maintenance and identification of alternatives if equipment is disabled.
  3. Alternative communications procedures.
  4. Alternative power supplies.
  5. Fleet management and maintenance.
  6. Maintenance of availability of emergency-related supplies.
  7. Worksite protection, maintenance and repair.
  8. Provision for sheltering in place in extreme circumstances.
  9. Provision of sustenance necessities for employees (food, sleep) in extended work situations.


Maintaining Compliance with Federal and State Employment Laws

Federal and state employment laws are applicable and enforceable in extreme circumstances, as they are within the context of “normal” operations. In fact, dangerous situations can call attention to possible employer liability. It may be helpful to remember the following:

  1. All prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of any of the protected human attributes (age, disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy) remain in place. Violations are all the more visible in extreme situations.
  2. Organizations continue to be bound by rules and requirements that pertain to health and safety. OSHA is a valuable resource for information on required standards and means of meeting them. The burden of recording injury and death data as per OSHA reporting requirements can easily come to light in extreme situations. Having a process firmly in place and operational will make meeting that responsibility more routine, even in an emergency.
  3. Because extreme circumstances can call for heroic levels of performance, it is imperative that attention be paid to the requirements that affect employee pay. Many of your employees will be hourly workers. Rules that pertain to Fair Labor Standards classification, equal pay for equal work and overtime could be subject to closer scrutiny in extreme circumstances simply due to the increased number of hours that need to be worked. Be mindful of related safety issues as exhaustion, physical capability and fairness.

It is important to remember that violations of these laws in extreme circumstances will be considered all the more egregious because of the enhanced seriousness, severity, and danger therein. Implied employer/service provider liability can and often does become an issue.

Ensuring Continuation of Quality Service
During an emergency, your customers will look to you more than ever as a key resource for reestablishing health, safety, and comfort capabilities. They will be frightened, anticipate danger and feel totally helpless and inadequate to meet the situation at hand.

Emergencies invariably affect your ability to deliver service. Power supplies may be restricted or incapacitated. Worksite access may be limited or barred totally. Extraordinary damage solutions, such as debris removal, may be required before your employees can get back to work.

Maintaining the maximum level of operational capability possible under extreme circumstances will not only establish your business as one that takes its responsibilities for the safety and effectiveness of its employees and customers to heart, but also as one that can be relied upon to help a community survive a disaster.

Parting Recommendations 
•  If you don’t have an Emergency Action Plan, write one that is specific to your own unique business, skill requirements, locale, and business goals. Many state regulators concerned with health and safety offer guidelines for key elements that should be contained in an EAP.

•  Once an EAP is in place, review it at least annually. Make sure that it is revised as related elements in the work environment change.

•  Communicate, communicate, communicate! Make sure that your employees fully understand what they might be called upon to do in an emergency situation and what systems you have in place so that they can work safely and effectively to help meet serious needs.

•  Periodically train to the EAP. We all forget details. Make sure that employees have easily remembered access to key tools ranging from such things as emergency supplies to key contacts for emergency management updates and information.

•  Consider providing such emergency training as CPR and First Aid.

•  Do some creative thinking as to how your employees might bridge differences in language capability. Awkward as it may seem, role playing may help.

•  Stress the importance of providing for the safety of your customer base.

By being prepared for an emergency, you can limit the impact of unexpected events on your operations. With proper preparations, your company might find itself as the only one in town who can provide services after an emergency. By helping your employees and customers get their lives back to normal, you can enjoy a reputation in your community as an employer and a professional business that truly cares.

An additional resource for PHCC members to utilize is a program called Open for Business from Federated Insurance. You can read more about it here.


 

This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. (www.tpo-inc.com). Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of May 2012. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional.

The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a gift at http://www.phccfoundation.org.

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