Managing professional risks: Preparing for natural, man-made disasters

While the idea that the best defense is a good offense has often been used in sports, it’s also appropriate for dentistry, according to the ADA Center for Professional Success. On the field, coaches do everything they can to train, protect and prepare their teams; in the practice, the dentist is responsible for training, protecting and preparing the team so they’re ready to respond in different types of emergency situations.

Some of the emergencies that can affect a dental practice include natural and man-made disasters, such as:

  • hurricanes.
  • tornadoes.
  • floods.
  • fires.
  • power outages.
  • pandemics.
  • earthquakes.

Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

The coach and the team reference their playbook; you and your team should create a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) to guide you through what to do if some type of disaster impacts the practice or your local community.

Since the purpose of a BCP is to minimize the disruption to your business, you’ll want to have the plan in place before you need it. Having a clear plan outlining what to do and in what sequence can safeguard the practice’s assets and minimize any loss of revenue.

While creating a BCP will take some time and effort, having one will bring you peace of mind if you don’t use it and an actionable plan if you do. Check with your professional liability carrier to determine whether they have any resources to assist you in developing a BCP.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Another helpful resource is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website for “Ready” a national public service campaign intended to promote preparedness for emergencies through public involvement. Some of the helpful resources available through the website include:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a division of the Department of Labor and is responsible for overseeing laws that require employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. OSHA sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards and provides information, training and assistance to workers and employers.

While there are no specific OSHA standards for dentistry, exposure to the different potential hazards in the dental setting are addressed in specific standards for general industry. Depending on the size of your practice, certain regulations may apply; for instance, employers with 11 or more employees are required to have a written Emergency Action Plan for individuals involved in providing fire prevention, emergency medical or evaluation assistance.

You and your dental staff may need to act quickly to safeguard yourselves, your patients or your community following a natural or man-made emergency. An effective way to do that is to regularly discuss and review the practice’s emergency response plan. During that discussion, make sure that all employees, including new hires, are:

  • aware of the plan
  • know when it should be activated
  • aware of their roles and responsibilities in implementing the plan.

It’s a good idea to maintain a written log that details when employees:

  • were notified of the emergency plans and protocols
  • were assigned and accepted responsibility for carrying out certain specific actions within the plan
  • participated in training and/or mock drills in order to practice performing their roles and implementing the plan
  • received follow-up or refresher training to ensure they remember the various components in the emergency response plan

You may also want to consider educating your staff about workplace violence and employee-on-employee violence.

The American Dental Association (ADA) has numerous resources to help prepare dentists and their staffs for emergency situations; many of those resources, and additional information, are available in the ADA Guidelines for Practice Success™ (GPS™) module on Managing the Regulatory Environment. Some of those ADA resources include:

Other resources available through the ADA include:

Valuable information on managing emergencies is also available from several federal agencies. Some of those resources include:

These action plans developed by New York University College of Dentistry provide useful information to help you prepare for and recover after a disaster:

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