Auditing Facilities & Preparing for Emergencies
By Alex Antoniou, Ph.D., Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., & Laurie Batter
Facility audits affect how organizations prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. An audit is an important part of the risk management plan. Maintaining a safer place for employees and guests is the goal, through regularly scheduled audits. Properly conducting an audit does require a clear understanding of the purpose and process. Audits help managers develop emergency response plans that address potential risks. Management personnel have a responsibility to either conduct self-audits or to engage a qualified consultant or employee.
The first step should focus on setting objectives to evaluate the facility and current practices. This includes identifying areas where safety improvements can be made. Auditors should focus on spotting hazards and substantial risks; management should decide if the auditor or unit managers will propose and implement corrective actions. Previous injury or incident reports may be useful to guide an audit.
Answering a few questions will help to determine the scope of an audit:
- Who or what facilities, operations or areas will be audited?
- What items should be included on the audit checklist?
- What information and supplies will the auditor need?
- What qualifications should the auditor have, and who will conduct the audit?
- When will the audit be carried out?
- Who should receive audit results and/or a formal report?
Safety audits usually occur when normal operations and work practices can be observed; however, some observations are best carried out during non-active times. For example, it is easier to observe the physical structure when guests are not in the pool or spa.
Checklists are a helpful tool. Auditors can add to and subtract from the checklist. There are several resources that can guide a checklist. Company hazard communication plans, material safety data sheets, certification textbooks, federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pool & Spa Safety Act, and standards or codes. Employees may suggest other items based on their knowledge.
A facility auditor should recognize hazards and should verify employees are following safety procedures. Many online training courses are available to build an auditor's ability to identify risks. Training on hazard communication plans, personal protective equipment, chemical safety, and electrical safety is useful for auditors. In addition, audits may verify records documenting maintenance, equipment manuals, training and certification, incidence reports and medical activities.
Safety audit results should be communicated to affected management and employees. The auditor should try to report issues in order of severity. This helps ensure that the highest risks are minimized first. Audits should also communicate what employees are doing right to reinforce good systems and practices. When completing an audit report, avoid stating opinions; only report factual information. This is critical since audits may be subpoenaed during a legal action. For example, stating that the main drain cover is missing and needs to be replaced immediately is good. Stating that the main drain cover may cause injury is subjective.
Be specific with facts about the hazards. Include information about "who, what, where, when" type information. Details help focus corrective actions. Digital images can also be included to clarify written observations. For example, instead of reporting, "electrical hazard," the report should provide more details like "frayed wire (what) on circulation pump 2 (where)."
When documenting hazards, the report may detail what needs to be done and who is responsible. Alternatively, the report may document the issue and rely on management to formulate corrective actions.
The observed hazard, as well as the underlying causes of the hazard, should be reported. For example, wiping up a wet area removes the immediate problem, but does not remove the cause. Repairing a leaking pipe may prevent a future problem. If the hazard immediately threatens injury or death, the facility or area must be closed until corrective steps have been taken. In some cases, a temporary corrective action must be taken to reduce risk until the long-term solution can be implemented.
Audits play an important role in identifying and minimizing risks. However, all risk cannot be eliminated. As a result, it is important to prepare for emergencies. Circumstances in the workplace can change and employees should be prepared to respond to an emergency.
Each employer has a duty to outline emergency response procedures in the organization's Emergency Response Plan (ERP). Employees have the responsibility to follow the plan. Every person needs to know their responsibilities. Thus, staff training is critical.
Employees should be able to access the emergency response plans. There are several factors to be considered when creating a plan. The facility layout, the number of employees and vendors, hazards like equipment and chemicals around the facility, and the type of people using the facility.
An employer must designate and train staff to assist in the safe and orderly evacuation of employees. An ERP must include escape procedures and routes for employees and patrons, and methods to account for employees. Employees may be assigned to assist with medical, rescue, calling for help, accounting for employees or guests. The ERP also details employee procedures for critical operations like turning off chemical feeders or electrical equipment if appropriate.
The ERP is a resource. As a result, the ERP should include the contact information for each employee. The employer should review the plan with employees and when the employee's responsibilities or emergency plans substantially change. The employee is responsible to follow the plan.
When there is an emergency, emotions run high. The ERP helps keep staff clearheaded and focused. The key is to not delay care. The types of emergencies that can occur at an aquatic facility include distressed swimmers, active drowning victims, passive drowning victims, breathing and cardiac emergencies, head, neck and back injuries, fecal incidents, chemical exposure, lightning storms, fire, and violence. An ERP may include appropriate training and necessary certifications, such as lifeguard, first aid and CPR certifications for any employee attempting to rescue and administer assistance to a victim.
Communication is essential in emergencies. Staff can communicate using different methods such as hand signals, whistles, telephones and walkie-talkies (radio). Employees can call for help by dialing 911. The telephone or walkie-talkie links vital employees to organize a quick response. Mobile communications is important in a crisis.
During an emergency, media coverage may result. The emergency response plan should outline who is designated to speak with the media. It is helpful to provide guidance on what to say and not say.
Conducting audits and developing emergency response plans is an important management function. Too often organizations play a game of chance, hoping that nothing bad will happen. When an employee or guest is injured, made ill or dies, tremendous pain and suffering results. In addition, financial and liability consequences can be devastating. Regular, scheduled facility audits and development of an emergency response plan will protect employers, employees, customers and stakeholders. Take the first step today to help your own organization to minimize risk due to an emergency and respond effectively when needed.
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