Two file cabinets, one red, the other yellow, stand along an open wall in J.R. Simplot’s office in Fresno, Calif. They are a silent testament to Paul Simpson’s ever-vigilant attention to details, both large and small, that play a role in the company’s emergency action plans.

Simpson, the company’s director of retailer operations in California, chose the colors to give employees a visual reminder or clue to the cabinets’ contents. The red cabinet holds a variety of safety data sheets. The yellow one holds documents on Simplot environmental, health, safety and security policies and procedures. Everything is clearly marked and ready for reference.

“If a regulator walks through the door and wants to review a document we’re supposed to have on file, our employees know exactly where to locate it,” Simpson says. As a result, employees don’t have to search stacks of folders, fumble through drawers or skim papers posted on the wall.

That’s Not All. Simpson has a comprehensive plan in place to address a variety of challenges, and employees receive regular training on how to respond to each one.

That’s exactly what an effective emergency action plan does for you and your business, says Jaye Hamby, senior consultant for FLM+, a strategic consulting, marketing and communications company. It gives every employee the specific steps to take during a not-business-as-usual situation from small incidents to major crises. But for a plan to work, you have to take the somewhat uncomfortable step of identifying those “what if” scenarios in advance.

“There are a lot of complexities in managing a retail operation and servicing customer needs that tend to get ahead of this kind of planning,” Hamby acknowledges. “You have to make a commitment to do it.”

As part of his planning efforts, Simpson attended the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) crisis management workshop in March. The training was led by Hamby and sponsored by FMC Corporation.

“I hadn’t participated in a retailer training program like that before, and I thought it might help me identify some areas where we have gaps in our plans,” Simpson says.

It also gave him a chance to talk with other participants about their respective programs and practices.

“Having the opportunity to collaborate and share best practices from people in the trade is probably one of the best things about this type of program and why we put it together,” says David McKnight, ARA director of member services.

Following are six steps or practices that Hamby addressed during the workshop. He says these are not comprehensive or a substitute for addressing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements. However, they can help you create a safety-conscious culture, so you and your employees are prepared for the unexpected.

1.        Make safety a priority. Most retailers have the necessary documents posted on walls and a notebook or two full of workplace requirements that are spelled out and enforced by OSHA. That’s good, but this is more than that. It’s a mental shift, a move on your part from philosophically supporting safety to making it a priority operationally.

“What you say and do as the leader can create a positive mindset about safety up and down your organization from top-level managers to administrative staff and even part-time help,” Hamby says.

2.        Engage employees in the process. Your employees know the kinds of hazards that they encounter on a routine basis and are often best-qualified to suggest how to eliminate those risks.

“Your people are your greatest asset, so get them involved early and often,” Simpson encourages.

Simpson dedicates several hours each week to reviewing and updating the plans in place at each of the 24 Simplot regional facilities he oversees.

“We have programs at every location to train new employees and existing employees, action plans in case of severe weather, steps to protect the facility if we had a fire and regular tailgate discussions and updates,” Simpson notes. “We even do pre-trip and post-trip discussions with our drivers who haul products to the farm, so they’re always thinking safety first.”

Marion Ag Service Inc., St. Paul, Ore., engages employees on a variety of levels, some daily and others weekly, to identify problems and suggest solutions, says Jael Rose, human resources director for the company. The company has a dedicated safety coordinator who works with employees routinely on physical and facility safety practices.

The company builds a positive culture of compliance by providing a variety of incentives for employees that are fun and rewarding. “Each department has a set of safety objectives it must meet on a regular basis,” Rose says. When it does, employees receive “safety bucks” once per quarter that they can cash in on jackets and other goods.

Some of the routine things Marion asks of its employees: They make sure all areas in each department are clean and free from hazards; they remove debris (even cobwebs) and recycle cans, bottles and paper.

“We also encourage employees to join our routine facility walk-throughs, to take notes on any problem areas and discuss the actions needed to fix them,” Rose says.

Hamby says a valuable side benefit to having employees and employers work toward common goals is that productivity often increases.

3.       Control the risks you can. Consider the vulnerable parts of your business. J.R. Simplot has consolidated the storage and distribution of anhydrous ammonia to five facilities in Simpson’s region.

“It’s been a good way to manage the product, and fewer facilities have to be regulated to handle it,” he says.

Evaluate planting and harvest seasons, which are high-risk times for many retailers.

During these times, reduce some of the stress and fatigue employees face by building brief breaks into their daily schedules. Consider providing dinner when long work days stretch into evenings. It will help employees stay motivated, and they will appreciate that you care enough to provide a meal.

4.       Maintain accurate records. Retailers with good records are ready to answer questions from the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA. They’re also better protected from negative press and even lawsuits. “Document everything to confirm that protocols are in place and followed,” Hamby says.

5.       Stay current on industry trends. Talk with area business owners about their practices and plans; read trade journals and online articles from reputable sources.

6.       Make your plan practical. Don’t try to develop the perfect plan. Make it something you can use.

“A plan is only as good as your ability to implement it,” Hamby says. “It has to work for your specific business. Practice it, review it, and update as needed.”