Workplace Emergency Management
May 1, 2008
Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Workplace Emergency Management
Nobody expects an emergency or disaster — especially one that affects them, their employees, and their business personally. Yet the simple truth is that emergencies and disasters can strike anyone, anytime and anywhere. You and your employees could be forced to evacuate your company when you least expect it.
What is an emergency action plan?
An emergency action plan covers designated actions employers and employees must take to ensure employee safety from fire and other emergencies. Putting together a comprehensive emergency action plan that deals with all types of issues specific to your worksite is not difficult.
At a minimum, your emergency action plan must include the following:
• A preferred method for reporting fires and other emergencies;
• An evacuation policy and procedure;
• Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe or refuge areas;
• Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside your company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan;
• Procedures for employees who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers, or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating; and
• Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them.
You also may want to consider designating an assembly location and procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation.
How do you alert employees to an emergency?
Your plan must include a way to alert employees, including disabled workers, to evacuate or take other action, and how to report emergencies, as required.
In the event of an emergency, local emergency officials may order you to evacuate your premises. In some cases, they may instruct you to shut off the water, gas and electricity. If you have access to radio or television, listen to newscasts to keep informed and follow whatever official orders you receive.
When drafting your emergency action plan, you may wish to select a responsible individual to lead and coordinate your emergency plan and evacuation. It is critical that employees know who the coordinator is and understand that person has the authority to make decisions during emergencies.
The coordinator should be responsible for the following:
• Assessing the situation to determine whether an emergency exists requiring activation of your emergency procedures;
• Supervising all efforts in the area, including evacuating personnel;
• Coordinating outside emergency services, such as medical aid and local fire departments, and ensuring that they are available and notified when necessary; and
• Directing the shutdown of plant operations when required.
• Employees designated to assist in emergency evacuation procedures should be trained in the complete workplace layout and various alternative escape routes. All employees and those designated to assist in emergencies should be made aware of employees with special needs who may require extra assistance, how to use the buddy system, and hazardous areas to avoid during an emergency evacuation.
How do you account for employees after an evacuation?
Accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. Confusion in the assembly areas can lead to delays in rescuing anyone trapped in the building, or unnecessary and dangerous search-and-rescue operations. To ensure the fastest, most accurate accountability of your employees, you may want to consider including these steps in your emergency action plan:
• Designate assembly areas where employees should gather after evacuating;
• Take a head count after the evacuation. Identify the names and last known locations of anyone not accounted for and pass them to the official in charge;
• Establish a method for accounting for non-employees such as suppliers and customers; and
• Establish procedures for further evacuation in case the incident expands. This may consist of sending employees home by normal means or providing them with transportation to an offsite location.
What does your plan need to include about hazardous substances?
No matter what kind of business you run, you could potentially face an emergency involving hazardous materials such as flammable, explosive, toxic, noxious, corrosive, biological, oxidizable or radioactive substances.
The source of the hazardous substances could be external, such as a local chemical plant that catches on fire or an oil truck that overturns on a nearby freeway. The source may be within your physical plant. Regardless of the source, these events could have a direct impact on your employees and your business and should be addressed by your emergency action plan.
If you use or store hazardous substances at your worksite, you face an increased risk of an emergency involving hazardous materials and should address this possibility in your emergency action plan. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) requires employers who use hazardous chemicals to inventory them, keep the manufacturer-supplied Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for them in a place accessible to workers, label containers of these chemicals with their hazards, and train employees in ways to protect themselves against those hazards. A good way to start is to determine from your hazardous chemical inventory what hazardous chemicals you use and to gather the MSDSs for the chemicals. MSDSs describe the hazards that a chemical may present, list the precautions to take when handling, storing, or using the substance, and outline emergency and first-aid procedures.
For specific information on how to respond to emergencies involving hazardous materials and hazardous waste operations, refer to 29 CFR, Part 1910.120(q) and OSHA Publication 3114, Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response Operations. Both are available online at http://www.osha.gov/index.html .