By Jon Fesmire
It’s not enough to set up a self-storage operation with infrastructure, software and security systems in place. In any business, safety is of primary importance. Your company or individual facility surely has a safety manual, but how accurate and complete is it? How serious are you about site safety?
It’s an employer’s duty to keep his staff and customers safe while also protecting the business. That entails the creation of a safety manual specifically for your company. If you own several facilities, you can create a single manual that covers the concerns at all locations. Remember, a manual should be the backbone of your safety program. Follow these guidelines for creating both.
Write a Safety Manual
To begin writing your manual, walk around your facility and take detailed notes on all potentially dangerous work activities. Include situations in which employees use equipment (ladders), machinery (golf cart) or chemicals (cleaning products). Note instances when sharp objects might be used, such as box-cutters or pruning shears.
Next, write down the current procedures for using each of these tools or products. Be very detailed about your policies. You might also include some general safety guidelines and proper lifting techniques. Step-by-step guidance is warranted here to keep everyone safe. Employees who work with machines or tools must know how to use them correctly. If possible, provide a data sheet about proper tool usage. You can also include material safety-data sheets for each of the chemicals your company uses. These are generally available for free and downloadable from vendor or other safety-organization websites.
Your manual should also explain how to handle any accidents or other incidents that might occur on the property. For example, do you have procedures in place in case of an injury? What about an armed robbery? The priority should be to protect the lives of customers and employees. BusinessKnowHow.com offers a helpful list of rules employees should follow, for example, having two people present during business opening and closing and when making bank deposits. Make sure these rules are in your manual.
Finally, make sure your manual is accurate and compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and rules. This agency covers federal laws all businesses must follow. Check the small-business section of the website or call the assistance line if you need help determining which rules apply to your company.
OSHA can offer free guidance, but you might want to hire a safety consultant or, depending on the size of your business, a permanent safety officer. You can also designate a responsible employee to this role and request that he stays on top of new OSHA rules and changes.
Build a Safety Program
Your safety program will have several parts. Once you have your manual ready to go, it’s time for staff training. Every employee should receive safety training specific to the storage business. Each should be required to read the manual and pass a safety test. You might want to periodically quiz employees on safety procedures to keep them sharp.
Schedule regular safety inspections of chemicals used, equipment, tools and work spaces. If an inspection shows that equipment isn’t being maintained properly, chemicals aren’t stored where they belong, and so on, repeat the safety training.
Train employees in first-aid basics and CPR. This is more affordable and takes less time than you might think. A simple Google search should turn up several training centers in your area, many of which specialize in classes for businesses. Make sure the first-aid kit is easily accessible and everyone knows where to find it.
Establish solid communication procedures. Have a list of local emergency numbers handy. Of course, 911 is the big one, but the list should also include direct numbers to the local police and fire departments as well as poison control.
Install quality video cameras in the office and around your property. Consider installing a silent alarm system that’s easily accessible to employees. Also consider some kind of communications system so employees can quickly alert others if there’s an emergency on the property, and make sure everyone knows how to use it.
Make sure employees know they’re part of the safety solution and their input is valued. After all, they’re the ones working with the roll-up doors, cleaning supplies, golf cart, hand trucks and more. Have a system through which they can submit suggestions for improvement to your program and manual.
Watch for Weather Hazards
In the self-storage business, much of what we do takes place outside, from driving the golf cart to performing maintenance tasks. Because of this, it’s important to understand how the weather can affect daily operation. For example, snow or ice can cause someone to slip.
In inclement weather, make sure employees wear non-slip shoes to prevent falls. Put signs in place to warn customers about ice, snow or slippery areas. The first rain of a season brings up all the oil that’s dripped from cars around the property and can make the ground slick. When possible, clean these up. Of course, you want to add a short section on weather hazards to your safety manual.
Run Emergency Drills
We all remember the fire and safety drills we endured during our school years. If you grew up in California, you also had earthquake drills; if you grew up in the Midwest, there were tornado drills.
You probably don’t hear about businesses having drills too often, but they’re a good idea. Arrange some role-play scenarios in which employees can rehearse your safety practices. For example, pretend a tenant has cut himself or suffered a heart attack. Play out what you’d do in that circumstance. Once the drill is over, talk about what went right and where you need to make changes to protocol so things go more smoothly if the real thing occurs. Again, update your safety manual if necessary.
Conduct an Investigation
When everything is done right, a great safety program combined with swift response and an accident-investigation protocol will work together to protect employees and customers as well as limit business liability. The point of an investigation is to uncover the root cause of the incident. It provides an opportunity to learn what went wrong so you can avoid similar accidents in the future by implementing improved safety procedures.
If a serious accident occurs, call 911 immediately and have an employee who is trained in first aid and CPR attend to the injured party. Keep in mind the integrity of the site is important for a proper investigation. The basic rule is to not move anything, with some important exceptions. You can move the injured party to save his life or prevent further injury. You can also move property to protect it or to protect the injured party. When in doubt, leave the scene as is—if no one is in harm’s way—until the authorities arrive. The last thing you want is a lawsuit from a customer who suffered additional injury from being relocated.
Limit Your Liability
Doing everything recommended above, with the safety manual as the rule book that holds it all together, will not only reduce the number of accidents at your self-storage property, it can minimize your liability if an accident does occur. While most injured employees will be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, you don’t want to lose a lawsuit because of negligence on your part.
While it’s impossible to be prepared for every danger or hazard that might come at you, being proactive about possible situations will help you minimize a catastrophe if one happens. If you don’t already have a written safety manual, it’s time to create one. Cover any potential hazards so employees know how to handle them. The reality is, if you’re not serious about the safety of your employees, tenants and property, you might find yourself on the losing end of a lawsuit.
Jon Fesmire is a copywriter at Storagefront.com and writes articles for the company’s blog, “The Renter’s Bent.” In 2011, he earned a Master of Fine Arts from Academy of Art University. StorageFront allows self-storage customers to custom search and compare thousands of facilities. For more information, visit www.storagefront.com.