Emergency Communications for Construction Incidents

Emergency Communications for Construction Incidents

23rd May 2017

Thanks to advances in technology, we’re now living in a Digital Age with innovative new methods of communication that can keep us connected at all times.  However, when it comes to emergencies, communication can still present a challenge.  First responders (who are used to emergencies) point out that when they attend an incident of emergency situation, communication is a key area where they would like to see improvements.

When it comes to an emergency on a construction project, the incident can range from one person suffering an injury to a major incident that affects multiple people.  No matter what the emergency is, the ability to accurately and clearly communicate is essential – whether it’s to communicate a need for first aid or the need to carry out an evacuation.  Emergency response training often focuses on learning and practicing tactical and operational procedures such as cleaning up spills, evacuation, dealing with fire, etc.  It’s vital during any emergency to recognise the different audiences involved and communicate with each of those audiences in order that people know precisely what actions they are expected to take.

While having an emergency plan in writing is vital, practising carrying out the plan through drills and training will help employees to understand exactly what they should do in a given situation.  It’s essential that each person fully understands the role they will be expected to play in an emergency situation and has practised that role sufficiently that it becomes second nature to them. 

Employee communications during an emergency can vary from alarms, public address systems or even text messages and social media channels.  Professional responders use a buddy system during response efforts which helps to ensure that everybody has a means of communicating, whether it’s just verbally to their buddy or electronically via walkie talkie or radio set to the person co-ordinating the response.  Adopting a similar buddy system within an organisation when incidents occur can mean that the emergency responders are facilitated in their efforts.

Better still would be the opportunity to carry out some training drills with professional responders in attendance.  It’s vital that the duty holder of the organisation has a system in place that can be used to communicate with response teams, whether it’s medical personnel, firefighters, police or other rescue services.

During any incident it may also be necessary to communicate with the public or passers-by.  One of the most common mistakes made by organisations is failing to provide real time, up to date information to customers, families of employees involved in the incident and other stakeholders.  Appointing and training a member of staff to act as a Public Information Officer (IPO) during emergencies will ensure that there is a specific person who has the capability of presenting official messages on behalf of the organisation. 

The ability to rapidly communicate directions and keep the public informed will help to alleviate any fears or worries and, more importantly, can minimise the sense of chaos.  Having a trained IPO will channel media inquiries, prevent false rumours from spreading and prevent extraneous information from becoming public, minimising the fear and uncertainty that’s usually present during any emergency situation.