GALVESTON

Training employees and organizations how to stay safe in the workplace is a concern that grows more urgent every time a shooter enters a building somewhere in America, not an infrequent event, safety experts said.

Galveston County Mutual Assistance Partnership held a workplace safety forum Wednesday attended by an overflow crowd at Rosenberg Library, to teach groups how to respond to potentially threatening events.

On the agenda were policies for groups to follow in the case of death threats or threats of violence, bomb threats, instances of possession of firearms in the workplace, fire emergencies, medical emergencies, environmentally hazardous events, extreme weather and other occasions that might threaten workplace safety.

Both the Galveston Police Department and the Galveston Fire Department were on hand to offer tips on preparation for safety based on their extensive experience and to guide the discussion for this pilot event.

“We hope to do this more in the future,” said Robert Ruffman, executive director of the partnership.

Ruffman was hired to organize the partnership, a collective of Galveston County nonprofit agencies and concerned community leaders, after the local emergency of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

“We discovered a need for nonprofits and social service agencies to share resources and band together during emergencies, and that evolved into what we’re doing now,” Ruffman said.

Former Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas supported the establishment of the partnership as a registered nonprofit and the Kempner Fund provided seed money.

“The concept was for us to pay for things so that individual agencies don’t have to,” Ruffman said.

For example, the partnership offers smaller agencies in the county the opportunity to use an online library material for training that is often required but can be cost-prohibitive, he said.

For a small annual fee per employee, affiliated nonprofits can use the partnership’s membership to sign up for needed continuing education classes, he said.

The partnership has, for example, offered cultural diversity training around the county, conducted sexual harassment workshops and is working with the United Way of Galveston County Mainland on an employment skills training program, Ruffman said.

The workplace safety forum grew out of a realization that most small organizations don’t have protocols in place for many different types of crises, he said.

“You know what a fire drill is, but do you have a procedure in place to help vacate employees who are mobility impaired?” Ruffman said. “We ask groups first, ‘Do you have a policy in place’ then ‘Are your employees aware of them,’ then we offer training in setting up those policies.”

Carol Borne of Galveston attended the workplace safety workshop, even though she works at The Home Depot, an employer she said prepares its workforce exceptionally well for most emergency situations.

“The way things are these days, this is a great idea,” Borne said. “We all need to be aware. They need to do more of this.”

That’s the plan, Ruffman said.

Once the pilot program has been evaluated by the first set of attendees and adjustments have been made, the partnership plans to make workplace safety trainings a regular offering to the community.

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

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