Balancing Safety and Productivity Is Vital During Dangerous Weather

It’s not a question of whether severe weather will impact a business, but when. If you want to achieve the right balance between safety and productivity, start putting plans and provisions in place long before storms show up on the radar.

Mnet 192945 Storm Ap
Ian NicolsonIan Nicolson

Weather can pose an imminent, frightening and paradigm-changing threat to any business. A severe storm can destroy a facility, wipe out a job site, or put lives at risk; even distant weather that doesn’t directly impact your facility potentially poses severe consequences.

For instance, a weather-induced power outage caused by distant thunderstorms could shut down production. Even something as common as icy roads miles away from your facility can break a link in the supply chain.

Appropriately responding to the weather is essential. Unfortunately, weather forecasts can be uncertain and difficult to act upon. Knowing where, when, how and even if a weather event will impact a specific geographic location (like your production facility) is almost impossible to determine based on the average forecast.

Without a clear, to-the-point weather forecast, decision makers are forced to strike a delicate and often difficult balance between action and inaction. For the sake of both employees and facilities, it’s essential to respect the threat of weather by knowing when to act and when to stand down. However, there’s no need to let that encumber productivity and eat away at your bottom line.

Measure Your Responses

There can be a tendency to underestimate weather’s influence on your business until it’s too late. Taking the effects lightly or being underprepared is a sure way to prolong a return to the norm, but an overly cautious approach can be just as disruptive.

Weighing too heavily in either direction is ill-advised, especially if that emphasis falls in either of these areas:

• Production: Worrying only about meeting production, shipping, and construction schedules completely disregards the safety of all employees. Without a substantial employee safety program, a severe weather event can lead directly to significant injury or death, which can delay or end production, not to mention limit your ability to acquire and retain future talent. It can also produce liability lawsuits if it’s determined a company disregarded safety while focused solely on production.

• Safety: If workers are limited by excessively cautious regulations and overly burdensome personal protective equipment (PPE), they will find it difficult or even impossible to function once weather safety protocols are put into action. That can help eliminate a lot of accidents, but it also leads to a fundamentally inefficient production process. Your products now cost more, arrive late to market and sacrifice their competitive advantage.

Technological advances make this balance somewhat easier to achieve. Less restrictive state-of-the-art PPE means workers can insulate themselves from danger without degrading their ability to function in production environments, all while maintaining a higher comfort level. Automation has also made it possible to remove workers from the most dangerous environments, thereby eliminating the threat of bodily harm from large parts of the equation.

The problem is that while these improvements make it easier to strike a balance between prioritizing safety or productivity, they don’t cover all or even most of weather’s dangerous effects. If companies are going to act swiftly and certainly when the threat of weather looms, they need to go several steps beyond merely adding new equipment.

Identifying the Right Response to Severe Weather

Part of the challenge that weather-related outages pose is that they come in so many forms. Some businesses need to worry about hurricanes and high winds; others fret about fires and floods. As a result, individual safety measures may provide just one form of specific protection, not the expansive safety net businesses require.

The only way to be prepared for every type of weather contingency is to develop a business continuity plan. The goal of these plans is to respect the health and safety of workers while minimizing weather-influenced disruptions.

In practice, a business continuity plan provides guidance and actionable information that can be applied to any kind of weather threat or potential business disruption. Perhaps it will never be put into action, but the second it becomes necessary, it will prove to be an invaluable asset.

Here is what your plan will need to come equipped with to stave off weather-related drops in functionality:

1. Enlist the help of a professional weather service. The problem with relying on free weather forecasts from local and national outlets is that they offer only the most generalized information. Predictions are tailored to a broad region rather than for the very small, but very specific, sections of property that matter most to your business.

Further, these forecasts tend to err on the side of caution, which makes sense for the sake of public safety but forces businesses to be overly prepared for weather threats that won’t impact them. The solution is to partner with a professional weather service that can deliver customized weather forecasts, fit to the exact needs and location of your business. These forecasts can be tailored to dovetail precisely with recommended actions and responses found in your business continuity plan.

This way, if a threat is real, the company can take the steps necessary to protect everyone and everything at the site, assets included. If the threat is actually less than advertised, your weather team will keep you apprised of the current and expected conditions while your company proceeds with business as usual.

This not only helps a business base decision-making on the most accurate and relevant information available, but it also means that team members don’t have to handle weather monitoring on their own. They can carry on with their normal duties, knowing that when important weather information requires their attention, they will be immediately alerted.

2. Designate a crisis management team. A business continuity plan is little more than a piece of paper unless there’s a team in place to carry it out. One of the biggest obstacles during a severe weather event is simply a lack of high-quality information. Employees don’t know who to ask, where to turn, or what to do, which can lead directly to panic and poor decision-making.

Comprised of your own employees familiar with the needs of the business, a crisis management team not only takes the lead during an emergency, but it also helps train other employees in emergency protocol. Because this team is specifically tasked with responding to the unpredictable, it’s better equipped to spot deficiencies in a company’s disaster preparedness, such as inadequately trained employees or faulty processes.

This squad’s true value is that it prevents business continuity from being shifted to the back burner. By making continuity a priority for a select group of decision makers, it eliminates the risk that a disaster response effort will become outdated, irrelevant, or so inflexible that it becomes unable to protect both employee safety and productivity.

3. Make severe weather training a must. Even with the best laid plans in place, chaos and confusion can break out when severe weather suddenly becomes real. The best way to ensure plans run smoothly and effectively is to prioritize ongoing severe weather training for employees. With the right investment in the right kinds of training, business continuity plans are bolstered by the familiarity and experience of the employees carrying them out.

Training is specifically designed to improve employee safety and efficiency, but it also does a lot to preserve — or at least safeguard — productivity. When employees know exactly what to do, where to go, and when to put their training into action, they don’t waste time or effort on inefficient responses. This translates to more time and more resources available to protect employees, products, processes, and facilities.

In addition to training, businesses should also invest in the equipment necessary to weather the most urgent emergencies. For instance, companies that can be impacted by tornadoes should consider installing on-site tornado shelters to help employees find safe ground quickly when the threat is imminent.

Likewise, companies in the northern states can keep shovels and salt at the ready to battle those middle-of-the-night snowstorms. These are just two examples, but there are many more.

It’s not a question of whether severe weather will impact a business, but when. If you want to achieve the right balance between safety and productivity, start putting plans and provisions in place long before storms show up on the radar.

Ian Nicolson serves as an industry manager at StormGeo.

More in Operations