Hello there, County! Welcome to December!
Well, it is that time of year again when we here in Nova Scotia see some pretty crazy weather. Certainly, the massive power outage that hit us last Thursday was a perfect example of how, with even the best information, such thing are very hard to predict.
We have been told by the HRCE that when there is a power outage, they are directly in touch with Nova Scotia Power to get updates on the extent of the outages and the estimated restoration time. On Thursday, as I understand it, NSP was predicting 9:45 am or so, which, as we saw, was a bit ambitious, to say the least.
Now, when it comes to extended power outages, each school is responsible to have a contingency plan in place to ensure the safety of the people in the building. However, it is important that all staff realize that just because the power is out , it does not necessarily mean your building is unsafe. A good example of this is lack of heat. Although it is not particularly comfortable to be working in a cold building, there is no real danger present.
Here are a few key things that may help answer some questions around power outages.
To start with, most fire suppression systems are designed to function in the event of a power interruption, and many operate on a back up water supply. That means that even if your school has no water, the sprinklers should function normally, as should the fire alarms, which, it is my understanding, are on a back up power supply.
When it comes to the emergency lighting, many schools noted that the emergency lights went out after about an hour on Thursday, which is the extent of their battery life. It has been explained to me that these lights are designed to get people out of the building at night, and that schools should have enough natural light (particularly in stairwells) to allow for a safe evacuation, should the need arise, during a power outage.
When it comes to sanitation, schools must have the capacity to be able to flush toilets when there is no power, which usually means a supply of water being on hand for use in this eventuality. It would also be expected that a supply of hand sanitizer be on hand for both staff and students.
Finally, staff should have access to working flashlights in order to be able to navigate the hallways, and there should be some sort of back up lighting (i.e. battery operated lanterns) for washrooms, which tend to be windowless, to mitigate the risk of a slip-and-fall.
Please note, teachers should not be required to use their personal cell phones, for any reason, during a power outage, expect for in exceptional circumstances.
Now, if you feel that any of these conditions were not met on Thursday, (or are unsure about the answer), this would be an ideal time to bring this forward to your principal. Under the OHS Act in NS, it is the responsibility of every employee to report any situation that they feel is unsafe to their supervisor. For example, it was brought to our attention that even though some of the newer schools in HRCE did have running water on Thursday, the toilets were non-functional. This is concerning, and should be addressed before the next, undoubtedly inevitable, power outage.
Further to that, it might be advisable that if these conditions were not met at your site, that you ask your NSTU JOHS committee member to bring it forward at the next JOHS meeting.
Remember; workplace safety is everyone’s business. As caregivers, we must not lose sight of the fact that we need to keep ourselves safe so that we can keep our students safe.
After all, there is a very good reason why airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first.
Let me know if you have any questions, and have a great (and safe) week.