Emergency Preparation

Ready for Anything: Tips to Help Self-Storage Operators Improve Safety and Prepare for Emergencies

When it comes to accidents or other emergencies at a self-storage property, it’s imperative that the facility operators know how to act. Learn how to keep staff and tenants safe when disaster strikes.

When forced to watch workplace-safety videos, so many of us roll our eyes and think the same thing: These scenarios would never happen here. Unfortunately, that logic is what causes employees to feel panicked and confused rather than calm and informed when those hypothetical events do occur.

As a self-storage operator, it’s easy to take safety for granted. After all, the industry is built on the idea of security. But when disaster strikes—whether natural or manmade—all the surveillance cameras and disc locks in the world are no match for preparedness. If you’d like to do a better job of focusing on safety, below are some ways to improve. And if you think you’re already doing enough, take a look anyway. You just might be surprised to see what procedures you’re overlooking.

Understand Why Safety Matters

Safety hazards at your storage facility affect staff and customers in different ways. A faulty ladder that leads to a fall might result in your star employee suffering an injury, missing work for a month, receiving workers’ compensation and refusing to come back due to your negligence. An icy parking lot that causes a tenant to slip could lead to a lawsuit. The bottom line is if safety is compromised, everyone—including your business—gets hurt.

Identify Worst-Case Scenarios

For this exercise, you’re going to want to turn off the glass-half-full side of your brain. Take a stroll around your property and identify everything that could go wrong. Some obvious safety hazards at a storage facility include slips and falls, vehicle accidents, and any risks inherent with storage units, such as user error with roll-up doors.

Go through “a day in the life” of both employees and tenants, thinking about the products and equipment they might use. For employees, this might include cleaning products, golf carts, moving trucks, tools and electronics. For tenants, it could be their own vehicle or a moving truck they rented from you, a lock or the storage unit itself.

Be aware that a lot of what takes place at a storage facility happens outside, so it’s important to consider environmental factors. Exposure to excessive heat (resulting in dehydration and heat exhaustion) or cold are both hazards.

Also, consider man-made risks such as crime, which can occur from external and internal sources. This isn’t just limited to burglary but includes assault, as well as tenants who store illegal items like drugs and weapons.

After thoroughly investigating your facility for present and potential risks, ask yourself: Do you have protocols in place to address your safety concerns?

Protect Staff

They say you can’t help others if you don’t first help yourself. That adage might as well be written with self-storage safety practices in mind.

Now that you’ve identified hazards at your property, it’s time to prepare. When a situation arises—whether it’s an employee who accidentally sliced his hand with a box-cutter or a tenant suffering a heart attack—having the tools to act decisively will benefit everyone. This includes literal tools like a well-stocked first-aid kit, updated emergency-contact list and safety-data sheets from the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA). It also includes figurative tools in the form of knowledge. Knowing how to properly lift boxes, perform minor repairs and correctly service equipment will prevent many accidents.

Train Employees

Using knowledge as a tool to prevent risk sounds great in theory, but how do you impart that knowledge to your staff? It starts with training. Educate new hires in safety procedures and emergency protocol. Encourage them to ask questions, and require they pass a written safety test at the end of their training period. But don’t stop there.

Many employers make the mistake of drilling a tremendous amount of new information into their staff and then never revisit the information. Instead, hold weekly safety meetings to refresh topics and introduce new ones. You can cover things like what to do during a power outage, how to prevent blood-borne pathogens from spreading during an injury and so on. After these meetings, write down the vital information so employees can reference it later.

Periodically ask staff if they know where first-aid kits, safety manuals and emergency phone numbers are located. You may even want to consider doing pop quizzes. Be aware of different learning styles. If you happen to have many employees who learn by doing, incorporate practice drills of emergency and non-emergency safety scenarios.

Write a Safety Manual

A safety manual shouldn’t be a dust-covered binder that remains unopened in your management office. It should be a document with which every employee is familiar and comfortable. You can start by obtaining a sample manual from OSHA, which offers great resources about general workplace-safety procedures; however, it’s important to supplement that information with documents that relate to the self-storage industry and your facility specifically.

In addition to gathering safety instructions from the vendors that supply any equipment you use, create a manual to address safety protocols and other information, for example:

  • The location of emergency exits
  • Emergency-contact information (police, local hospitals, poison control, a trusted safety hotline, etc.)
  • Evacuation routes/maps
  • The location of first-aid kits and other tools

You can also include tips on issues that affect your region. For example, if you live in an area affected by flash floods, tornadoes or earthquakes, you’ll want to include guidance for what to do if these events occur.

Keep Tenants Safe

In a service-driven industry, workplace safety isn’t just about employees, it’s about customers. Look out for your tenants’ safety be keeping your property clean and free of dangerous debris like broken glass, tools and other hazards. Be aware of anything that might cause people to slip (ice, snow and spills). Consider CPR and basic first-aid training for staff, but leave the big stuff to medical professionals. Know the locations of local emergency rooms and hospitals.

Also consider screening your tenants. This might drastic, but it’s a surefire way to ramp up your safety standards. Work with a screening company to do background checks on prospective customers. This will help you eliminate prospects who have a history of theft or violent crime. Just remember that to avoid discrimination, you’ll need to screen every new tenant, not just the ones who give you “bad vibes.”

Staff should walk the property regularly, but change up the time when these rounds are done so potential burglars can’t learn your routine. Finally, develop a rapport with tenants and encourage them to let you know if they see anything on the site that makes them uncomfortable.

Have an Action Plan

While every safety hazard at your property deserves attention, true emergencies require urgency. These include environmental disasters such as fires and hurricanes as well as man-made risks like theft or threats of violence. No one wants to think of active shooters and bomb threats as something that can happen where they work and spend their time, but modern life has made these things potential realities.

Be prepared for any disaster at your facility by having an action plan. It will vary depending on the scenario, but it should include at least the following:

  • Chain of command: To avoid confusion, it’s important to delegate responsibilities. This might mean one person contacts the authorities, another communicates with tenants and someone else handles first aid.
  • Evacuation/lockdown plan: Depending on the situation, the property may need to be evacuated. Your emergency action plan should identify all exits and the easiest evacuation route. If, on the other hand, people need to stay put, the plan should highlight possible refuge areas.
  • Central meeting place: Emergencies often create chaos, which is mitigated by getting everyone to the same safe place. Designate a central meeting area in your action plan. This is where you can do a headcount and discuss next steps.

Think Ahead

Another key to emergency preparedness is to properly maintain the tools and resources that provide safety when disaster strikes. Always keep fire extinguishers, alarms, smoke detectors, security cameras and two-way radios in working order. Also, know how to shut off the gas, water and electricity, if necessary.

If any of this sounds like it’s outside of the scope of your capabilities, don’t hesitate to contact company officers or the police for advice. If a situation arises that you can’t handle physically or haven’t been trained to manage, don’t try to be a hero. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do to ensure safety is to ask for help.

When it comes to accidents or emergencies at your self-storage site, your role is to be a calm, guiding presence to staff and tenants. Keep yourself informed, and you’ll be able to use that knowledge to help everyone on the property to safety, even in the worst of worst-case scenarios.

Krista Diamond is a staff writer for StorageFront, which allows customers to custom search and compare thousands of self-storage facilities. She’s a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and lives in Las Vegas. When she isn't writing about storage, she’s climbing mountains in the desert. For more information, visit www.storagefront.com.

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