If your business encountered an office fire, workplace violence, a chemical spill or extreme weather, would you be prepared? As an employer, you want to protect your employees. You also have a legal and moral responsibility to do so. You can start with a plan.
The basics of an emergency evacuation plan
Circumventing confusion, panic and turmoil during and after a workplace emergency is key. Your emergency plan should help facilitate and organize what actions everyone in the workplace should take. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends plans include:
- A method for reporting fires and other emergencies
- An official evacuation policy and procedure made available to all staff
- 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 that may be contacted for additional information or an explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan
- Procedures for employees who are to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers or perform other essential services
- Rescue and medical duties for any workers who are designated to perform them
How will you make employees aware that there’s an emergency? Text? Loudspeaker? Alarm? Your plan must include clear instructions on how to alert employees, including accommodations or alternative plans for workers with disabilities and non-English-speaking employees. Alarms must be recognizable and accessible to all staff, with a system in place to notify authorities if an alarm is issued.
Accounting for staff
Your plan must include procedures to account for all employees after an emergency evacuation. It must also include instructions on how to secure medical attention for injured staff. Here are some tips for an efficient evacuation procedure:
- Outline at least one evacuation route for employees to safely exit the building. During the emergency, this route may become obstructed and ineffective, so outline a secondary route, if possible. Evacuation routes should be clearly marked, easily seen, unobstructed and wide enough for all of your staff to move through as they exit the building.
- Designate a location where your employees can retreat in the event of an emergency. This is the simplest and most effective way to ensure all employees are accounted for. In a worst-case scenario, you will be able to quickly identify whether any staff are missing or in danger.
- Take a head count after meeting at the designated evacuation area. Identify the names and last known locations of anyone not accounted for and immediately relay this information to an official in charge. Also consider any visitors to the workplace. Establish a way to account for non-employees such as suppliers and customers.
You should also have procedures for what to do if the immediate area becomes unsafe. This may include sending employees home by normal means or providing transportation to an off-site location.
Education beforehand is key
While an emergency plan is typically documented in writing, the plan may be communicated orally for small organizations. Ultimately, the most critical step in developing and deploying your organization’s emergency plan is educating your workforce about your procedures. At the very least, ensure all staff can identify and locate evacuation routes and assembly locations. For workplaces with known hazards like chemical or mechanical risk exposures, make certain all staff are prepared and aware of their role in alerting authorities and keeping their colleagues safe.
Keep in mind that even with the best-laid plans, emergency procedures should be drilled and practiced repeatedly before an incident occurs. This will help make sure all goes smoothly and lives are saved in the event of an emergency.
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