POWER OUTAGE SAFETY TIPS AND SOLUTIONS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Power cuts can be costly for businesses.
Nowadays everything is reliant on electricity and many companies are unable to continue operating without power.
If you run a business or you plan to run a business in Nigeria, you must be aware of certain challenges your business is likely to face.
One of these challenges is the power outage issue that seems to plague the country.
If unchecked, this issue could cause serious harm to your business.
Fortunately, whilst many power cuts are out of your control, there are ways of limiting the impact they have.
This is why I have taken the time to curate this piece to give business start-ups an idea of what to do when there is a temporary power outage.
Here are just a few measures you can take to keep your business running during a power cut.
1. Spot the early signs of electrical problems
Sometimes, a power outage could cause a serious drain on the resources of a firm or business. It could make you lose your customers, time and profits.
However, you can prepare yourself for what may seem like the inevitable, and effectively reduce the impact of a power outage on your business by spotting the signs of electrical problems on time.
Some power outages can be an internal problem and these are the ones that can often be prevented.
If circuit breakers keep tripping, it could be a sign that there are some clear electrical problems that need to be tackled. You can also replace your old circuit breaker with a new one.
Burning smells and unusually loud buzzing could also be signs of an imminent power failure. They could also be signs of potential danger such as an electrical fire.
This is not a time to stay positive, it’s a time to act. Note these subtle signs and plan to do something about it before it becomes a disaster.
2. Inform your headquarters
If you are the manager of a branch, you must call your headquarters and inform them about this outage.
This will enable the business to strategize on how to outsource or divert work from your branch to other branches without slowing down business. This is why a cell phone might come in handy.
Explain to your headquarters on how bad the outage is, and if it is a brownout or blackout. A brownout is a temporary outage that might be due to a fault in the fusebox or a low current that might not last longer than 5 hours.
However, a blackout is a complete power outage around your business area, with no sure time of restoration. So, you should call your headquarters right after you contact the local authorities and report the issue.
3. Have an electrician on call
If your business is located in a secluded environment, customers might find it difficult to patronize you during a power outage.
Most businesses in the 21st century do a lot of work via the internet: Mails, promotions, customer service e. t. c. Therefore, a power outage can really slow down business processes, response to customers and distribution of mails.
Having an emergency electrician on call could be important when a power cut does arise – especially if it’s an internal problem.
Have an electrician around at all times. Sometimes, the cause of a power outage issue might be as a result of something as little as a burnt fuse.
It is important to have an electrician to check things out and fix it properly. However, only trained professionals should be allowed to go to the fuse box to prevent a fatal accident.
The sooner you are able to get the problem fixed, the sooner you are able to get your company up and running again.
Many electrical companies will be able to provide this emergency service. You could just make enquiries in your localities and get the appropriate emergency lines.
4. Enable your employees to work from home
It is always a good idea to prepare yourself ahead for every possibility. This shows how professional you are as a manager.
You must draw up a plan for such a situation so that you can generally reduce the effect of a power outage on your business. A plan could be to see to it that your staff can work from home.
If your work is office-based, you may be able to continue work remotely somewhere that isn’t affected by the power cut.
What are the requirements needed in a situation you cannot work in the office should a power outage occurs? Are these options costly? What are the procedures?
This could require you to have all files backed up on the cloud. However, if your data are all on local machines or a local server, it could make this a little more difficult. Enabling your company to work remotely can be a way of coping through many disasters.
5. Invest in surge protection
This is very common if your business is located in a monsoon environment. Thunderstorms can cause serious surges that can do damage to your equipment if left unchecked.
Invest in good power surge protection to help you reduce the cost of damages during a thunderstorm or sudden high voltage. The last thing you want to do is to start replacing computers and other equipment after such an event.
6. Set up a UPS
A UPS (uninterruptable power supply) may allow your computers to continue running for a limited time after a power cut occurs.
Make sure that all files are backed up at all times to prevent the loss of data during a power outage. U.P.S gives your employees enough time to back up or save their files. This is a professional decision that will help make sure you do not lose customer data during a power outage.
This could also be enough to keep your company running for a short time. It may also give you a warning allowing you to safely shut down machinery that could be dangerous were it to suddenly turn off.
7. Invest in a backup power source
Another option to deal with a power outage could be to invest in your own backup power source. You could switch to it permanently in the event of an emergency.
An example is the solar generators.
This is a good alternative for small businesses because they are environmentally friendly and quite safe. There are also lenders offering solar panel financing.
A solar panel generates power from the sun. However, some solar panels might work only in the day and be useless at night, except it has a rechargeable battery.
In addition, a solar panel might not generate as much power as your business might need, especially if you are into mass production of goods. Installing a solar panel might also be expensive for small business owners.
However, it should be able to power your vital machinery such as refrigerators and servers to keep running in the event of a power cut.
8. Power generators
Although this option might not be as environmentally friendly as the previous two, it is still one of the best options for small businesses.
A generator can really help you during a power outage, plus if you purchase the right generator instead of hiring, it can save you hiring costs and generate enough power for your business to run normally and efficiently.
There are many different power generators that you can also look into. However, if you choose to use petrol generators, make sure the area is well ventilated.
Do not plug generators into power outlets directly, it’s advisable to use some form of stabilizers or surge. Do not also use a generator when it’s wet and never refuel when it’s so hot.
Expect to pay a lot more to run a generator than you would do for a UPS or inverter especially when you want to power a whole construction site or factory.
If you’re on a tight budget, you may feel that a backup generator is too much of an expense. However, you can use solar generators temporarily while your power source undergoes repairs.
A windmill is a structure that converts wind energy to rotational energy with the help of vanes or blades. This structure in previous centuries was used to pump water, mill grain or generate heat.
This option might be a little bit expensive for start-ups, in addition, you will need to create a special space or land in your business area to install this structure. This could be very expensive if your business is located in the city and you aren’t the landowner.
However, many countries like England, Denmark, Wales and Norway make use of this structure to generate more than enough energy for their citizens, and businesses. Besides, this alternative is environmentally friendly. So you could give it a shot!
10. Set some savings aside
You need to have some savings set aside for the purchase of fuel or other items that are needed in case of a power outage.
This is especially important if you decide to use the generator as an alternative during a temporary power outage. You do not want to start taking from your profits to purchase diesel or fuel to run your business.
This will only affect your business by increasing your operating cost. Therefore, in order to avoid losing profits and making your business decline, you might want to start putting some money into a separate account for emergencies like this one and developing a protocol for this sort of occurrence.
11. Train your employees
You should try as much as possible to train your employees on what to do when there is a power outage. Sometimes, you might not be around during a power outage and you would want your staff to make some crucial decisions as regards the restoration of power.
You might want to drill your employees on procedures to follow in such an emergency. This way you don’t have to worry about a power outage while you are on a vacation or break.
12. Safety first
You must make sure that your customers and employees are safe during a power outage.
If you run a bigger business and you have escalators and elevators, you should make sure there is nobody stuck inside the elevator. Your customers should come first. You could take a headcount of everybody inside the building to avoid anyone getting lost.
If the power outage issue is as a result of a storm, make sure nobody attempts to leave the building until it is safe to. Also, try contacting the authorities if someone gets stuck in the elevator.
Follow safety guidelines given to you by local authorities. Also, make sure the generator is in a safe place and far away from the building.
This is to avoid poisoning by carbon monoxide and noise disturbances. If the generator refuses to come on during a storm, do not attempt to fix it to avoid electrocution.
Instead, wait until the storm is over before you correct any electrical issue.
13. Consider installing emergency red lights
This is very important to make sure that even during a power outage, employees can still move around freely to do what needs to be done.
You do not want total darkness when the power goes out. This could be very dangerous especially in a factory where flammable, volatile materials or chemicals are being produced. You don’t want to end up sick or injured.
Once the power comes back on, do not immediately switch on all your equipment instead, switch on the lights first and run on them for 10-15 minutes before you switch on any business equipment.
This is because the power company might still be repairing the damage and a surge could happen. Therefore do not turn on any major appliance until you are sure the power is stable.
14. Emergency kits
Have an accessible easy to reach emergency kit, stocked with flashlights, emergency water, ropes, first-aid boxes e.t.c.
Make sure employees are trained on where it is and how to use it. You must take power outages very seriously so your business doesn’t lose at the end of the day.
15. Alert your security personnel
Make sure security stays alert around the premises. Most times, taking the power line down is the first step robbers take before an operation.
You must make sure all automatic doors stay locked and security patrols are around the building to make sure nobody is hurt or where they shouldn’t be.
Also, it is important to have an emergency phone line so you can report the outage to local authorities and call for some assistance.
16. Give room for natural air or non-electrical fan
Make sure you have a portable fan around to control temperature during a power outage. Most businesses make use of air conditioners in a closed office or glass building.
Therefore, air circulation might be very difficult, hence, the need for a fan and if possible a window.
You must also make sure to give special attention to persons who may be asthmatic or claustrophobic.
Make sure you gather everyone in one room, preferably your conference room and then do a headcount. Your security could help go around gathering customers and bringing them to a safe place, while you oversee other pressing issues.
17. Turn off all electronic devices
Ensure you turn off electronic devices that are work-related to avoid damage.
Most times, after a power outage, a surge comes next and this could do a lot of damage to your equipment if they are still plugged to their sockets.
You must turn off and totally disconnect all business’ large equipment so that nothing is damaged. This is relatively one of the most important procedures for small businesses, you do not want to start purchasing new equipment after a power surge or outage.
This could be very frustrating and could cause you to close down.
18. Life Savers
Make sure you have some food and water stock in case of emergencies like this. Sometimes, a storm might last for hours and people might become hungry or thirsty in the process.
Having water and snacks ready might not be such a bad idea as well. It will surely keep people calm and less-frightened about the whole situation.
Encourage customers and assure them that the power would be back on once somethings are sorted out. Call emergency lines if your customers are in life-threatening dangers as the line is only for emergencies.
After the power outage situation has been resolved, you should check and inspect your business equipment and appliances for damages and faults.
Look for exposed wiring and electronic inputs. Keep your nose up for the slightest smell of burning wire.
If you were running a generator while the power was down, make sure you turn it off in a safe way. Don’t forget to clean the generator and store it properly in a safe place.
Once you are sure you have inspected all your major appliances and equipment, it is time to take account of what your company lost during this power outage.
What could have been done to improve the situation and how to raise the business up again?
Make sure you implement this new knowledge for improvements so that you can be better prepared should it happen again.
So, how have you been able to manage power outage problems in your business?