Supporting Employees During Wildfire Season

Wildfire season is getting worse, starting earlier and lasting longer. Wildfires are a part of nature’s ecosystem, but when extreme, they can be devastating to people, biodiversity and ecosystems, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Notably, wildfires can directly impact the health and safety of millions. And, while U.S. wildfires are most common in western states, all regions should prepare for such threats, as wildfires’ impact extends beyond the immediate threat to individuals and communities.

For employees living in regions prone to these disasters, the wildfire season can lead to heightened anxiety, uncertainty and disruptions. Employers should recognize the challenges their workforce may face during wildfire season and take proactive steps to support their well-being.

Young man anxious at work.

By prioritizing employee well-being and offering appropriate resources, employers can show workers they’re valued, increasing loyalty and productivity as well as mitigating the impact of wildfires on their workforce.

This article explores practical strategies employers can implement to help ensure the physical and mental health of their workforce during wildfire season.

Developing Emergency Preparedness Plans

As wildfires become increasingly common, it’s vital that employers establish well-defined emergency preparedness plans. Emergency preparedness plans should provide clear guidance on aspects such as evacuation procedures, emergency contacts, and designated assembly points.

Common emergency preparedness plans address the following areas:

  • Resource management
  • Emergency response
  • Employee communications
  • Business continuity
  • Employee assistance
  • Emergency supplies
  • Employee training
  • Incident management

Employers should regularly review and update these plans to account for any changes in the wildfire risk landscape. Additionally, they should ensure employees are aware of these plans and know what to do in case of an emergency. Employers should consider using checklists and other resources to make sure wildfire preparedness details aren’t overlooked.

Establishing Communication Channels

Maintaining open and regular communication is crucial during wildfire season. Employers can implement systems for real-time communications, such as an emergency notification system or a dedicated communication channel, to keep employees informed.

For example, a mass notification system allows organizations to use various communication tools to distribute real-time emergency messages to large groups of people.

Using these communication channels to send regular updates about current wildfires, road closures, evacuation notices and relevant safety measures can help keep employees safe and providepeace of mind.

Organizations can assign an individual or group of individuals responsible for communicating critical information related to wildfires to all employees.

African woman using a blue cellphone in an office alone

In addition to establishing a communication chain of command, employers can encourage employees to enable push notifications to their cell phones to make sure they receive critical communications and timely updates.

Educating Employees

Ensuring all employees know what to do in an emergency can help improve workplace safety and reduce workers’ anxiety.

Employers can educate employees on the following wildfire safety measures:

  • Evacuation plans
  • Home preparedness
  • Safety zones to protect property
  • Mental health support resources
A gathering of people for a meeting.

Practicing evacuation plans regularly can help employees feel confident that they’ll be able to respond quickly and safely during an emergency.

Establishing Employee Assistance Programs

Wildfires can be traumatic events, greatly impacting workers’ mental and emotional well-being. Employers can use employee assistance programs (EAP) to support employees during wildfire season.

EAPs generally provide counseling services, mental health resources and referral programs to assist employees dealing with stress, anxiety and trauma. These can be valuable resources for employees during difficult times such as wildfire season.

Utilizing Employee Leave and Benefits

Leave can be critical to an employee’s well-being during wildfire season. Providing employees with leave can allow them to prioritize their and their families’ safety and address any emergencies or disruptions that may arise, such as finding child care arrangements. Additionally, wildfires can result in poor air quality due to smoke, which can adversely affect employees’ health. Employees may need time off to minimize their exposure to these hazardous conditions.

Workers impacted by wildfires may be entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and other laws due to health conditions related to wildfires. Employers should make their employees aware of their federal, state and local leave rights during wildfire season.

For workers who have exhausted their leave, employers can use leave donation programs to allow these employees to take time off during an emergency. Some organizations also implement employee assistance funds during crises that offer grants to aid employees experiencing financial difficulties due to natural disasters.

Instituting Workplace Safety Measures

Employers with offices or facilities in areas prone to wildfires should take proactive steps to ensure employee safety.

This may include implementing fire-resistant building materials, conducting regular fire drills and equipping workplaces with firefighting equipment.

Employers should also implement safety procedures for employees to follow in case of a wildfire, including designating fire wardens and establishing evacuation routes. Regularly inspecting and maintaining fire safety equipment can help confirm its effectiveness.

Implementing Flexible Work Arrangements

Wildfires can disrupt employees’ lives and create unexpected challenges. Implementing flexible work arrangements can help accommodate employees’ needs during wildfires.

Black smoke from a fire in the crimson sky from the sunset over the road in summer

Remote work arrangements, flexible schedules and adjusted hours may alleviate workers’ stress of commuting, minimize exposure to poor air quality and provide flexibility to attend to personal matters.

Takeaway

Prioritizing employee well-being and safety is critical during wildfire season. Supporting employees during wildfire seasons by developing policies and emergency preparedness plans, establishing communication channels and providing training is an investment in their well-being.

Employers can take proactive measures now to help protect employees’ health and well-being during wildfire season and, in turn, foster a sense of security, trust and loyalty.

Employers can explore these government resources for more information:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s
website on wildfires.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s evacuation plans and procedures e-tool.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Business website.

Contact GBS Benefits, Inc. today for additional wildfire resources.

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