If your workplace has 10 or more employees and any amount of a hazardous substance on hand, you are required by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.38 & .39 to have an emergency action plan. The plan must be in writing, kept in the workplace, and available to employees for review. However, an employer with 10 or fewer employees may communicate the plan orally to employees.
Even if you are not specifically required to do so, compiling an emergency action plan is a good way to protect yourself, your employees, and your business during an emergency. Putting together a comprehensive emergency action plan that deals
with all types of issues specific to your worksite is not difficult.
- What is a workplace emergency?
- How do you protect yourself, your employees, and your business?
- What is an emergency action plan?
A workplace emergency is an unforeseen situation that threatens your employees, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down your operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.
The best way to protect yourself, your workers, and your business is to expect the unexpected and develop a well thought-out emergency action plan to guide you when immediate action is necessary.
Emergencies may be natural or man-made and include the following:
- Toxic gas releases,
- Chemical spills,
- Radiological accidents,
- Civil disturbances, and
- Workplace violence resulting in bodily harm and trauma.
Brainstorm the worst-case scenarios. Ask yourself what you would do if the worst happened. What if a fire broke out in your boiler room? Or a hurricane hit your building head-on? Or a train carrying hazardous waste derailed while passing your loading dock? Once you have identified potential emergencies, consider how they would affect you and your workers and how you would respond.
You may find it beneficial to include your management team and employees in the process. Explain your goal of protecting lives and property in the event of an emergency, and ask for their help in establishing and implementing your emergency action plan. Their commitment and support are critical to the plan’s success.
When developing your emergency action plan, it’s a good idea to look at a wide variety of potential emergencies that could occur in your workplace. It should be tailored to your worksite and include information about all potential sources of emergencies.
Developing an emergency action plan means you should do a hazard assessment to determine what, if any, physical or chemical hazards in your workplaces could cause an emergency. If you have more than one worksite, each site should have an emergency action plan.
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.
In addition, although they are not specifically required by OSHA, you may find it helpful to include in your plan the following:
- The site of an alternative communications center to be used in the event of a fire or explosion; and
- A secure on- or offsite location to store originals or duplicate copies of accounting records, legal documents, your employees’ emergency contact lists, and other essential records.
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. Among the steps you must take are the following:
- Make sure alarms are distinctive and recognized by all employees as a signal to evacuate the work area or perform actions identified in your plan;
- Make available an emergency communications system such as a public address system, portable radio unit, or other means to notify employees of the emergency and to contact local law enforcement, the fire department, and others; and
- Stipulate that alarms must be able to be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by everyone in the workplace. You might want to consider providing an auxiliary power supply in the event that electricity is shut off. (29 CFR 1910.165(b)(2) offers more information on alarms.)
- Provide an updated list of key personnel such as the plant manager or physician, in order of priority, to notify in the event of an emergency during off-duty hours, and develop a clear chain of command and designation.
- Provide personnel with evacuation procedures, informing them of planned evacuation of routes and exits. Post these procedures where they are easily accessible to all employees.
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 a smart phone, radio or television, listen to newscasts to keep informed and follow whatever official orders you receive.
In other cases, a designated person within your business should be responsible for making the decision to evacuate or shut down operations. Protecting the health and safety of everyone at your facility should be the first priority. In the event of a fire, an immediate evacuation to a predetermined area away from the facility is the best way to
protect employees. On the other hand, evacuating employees may not be the best response to an emergency such as a toxic gas release at a facility across town from your business. The type of building you work in may be a factor in your decision.
Most buildings are vulnerable to the effects of disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or explosions. The extent of the damage depends on the type of emergency and the building’s construction. Modern factories and office buildings, for example, are framed in steel and are structurally more sound than neighborhood business premises may be. In a disaster such as a major earthquake or explosion, however, nearly every type of structure will be affected. Some buildings will collapse and others will be left with weakened floors and walls.
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; Under what
- Conditions should you call for an evacuation? What is the role of coordinators and evacuation wardens during an emergency?
- 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.
You also may find it beneficial to coordinate the action plan with other employers when several employers share the worksite, although OSHA standards do not specifically require this. In addition to a coordinator, you may want to designate evacuation wardens to help move employees from danger to safe areas during an emergency. Generally, one warden for every 20 employees should be adequate, and the appropriate number of wardens should be available at all times during working hours.
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.
When preparing your emergency action plan, designate primary and secondary evacuation routes and exits. To the extent possible under the conditions, ensure that evacuation routes and emergency exits meet the following conditions:
- Clearly marked and well lit;
- Wide enough to accommodate the number of evacuating personnel;
- Unobstructed and clear of debris at all times; and
- Unlikely to expose evacuating personnel to additional hazards.
If you prepare drawings that show evacuation routes and exits, post them prominently for all employees to see.
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
- How do you account for employees after an evacuation?
- How do you establish evacuation routes and exits?
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.
It takes more than just willing hands to save lives. Untrained individuals may endanger themselves and those they are trying to rescue. For this reason, it is generally wise to leave rescue work to those who are trained, equipped, and certified to conduct rescues.
If you have operations that take place in permit-required confined spaces, you may want your emergency action plan to include rescue procedures that specifically address entry into each confined space.
First Aid & Medical Care
If your company does not have a formal medical program, you may want to investigate ways to provide medical and first-aid services.
If medical facilities are available near your worksite, you can make arrangements for them to handle emergency cases. Provide your employees with a written emergency medical procedure to minimize confusion during an emergency.
If an infirmary, clinic, or hospital is not close to your workplace, ensure that onsite person(s) have adequate training in first aid. The American Red Cross, some insurance providers, local safety councils, fire departments, or other resources may be able to provide this training. Treatment of a serious injury should begin within 3 to 4 minutes of the accident.
Consult with a physician to order appropriate first-aid supplies for emergencies. Medical personnel must be accessible to provide advice and consultation in resolving health problems that occur in the workplace. Establish a relationship with a local ambulance service so transportation is readily available for emergencies.
The best emergency action plans include employees in the planning process, specify what employees should do during an emergency, and ensure that employees receive proper training for emergencies. When you include your employees in your planning, encourage them to offer suggestions about potential hazards, worst-case scenarios, and proper emergency responses. After you develop the plan, review it with your employees to make sure everyone knows what to do before, during and after an emergency.
Copies of Emergency Action Plan
Keep a copy of your emergency action plan in a convenient location where employees can get to it, or provide all employees a copy. If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally.
Important Information (Phone Numbers, Next of Kin, Medical Information)
In the event of an emergency, it could be important to have ready access to important personal information about your employees. This includes their home telephone numbers, the names and telephone numbers of their next of kin, and medical information.
Educate your employees about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of your workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of onsite or outside resources will determine your training requirements. Be sure all your employees understand the
function and elements of your emergency action plan, including types of potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures. Discuss any special hazards you may have onsite such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances. Clearly
communicate to your employees who will be in charge during an emergency to minimize confusion.
General training for your employees should address the following:
- Individual roles and responsibilities;
- Threats, hazards, and protective actions;
- Notification, warning, and communications procedures;
- Means for locating family members in an emergency;
- Emergency response procedures;
- Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures;
- Location and use of common emergency equipment; and
- Emergency shutdown procedures.
You also may wish to train your employees in first-aid procedures, including protection against blood-borne pathogens; respiratory protection, including use of an escape-only respirator; and methods for preventing unauthorized access to the site.
Once you have reviewed your emergency action plan with your employees and everyone has had the proper training, it is a good idea to hold practice drills as often as necessary to keep employees prepared. Include outside resources such as fire and police departments when possible. After each drill, gather management and employees to evaluate the effectiveness of the drill. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your plan and work to improve it.
In compliance with 29 CFR 1910.39, fire prevention is a mandatory part of your emergency action plan as there is always a possibility that a fire could break out, and the most likely cause of a fire would be chemical or electrical . Fire prevention practices are designed to prevent such fires. It is the responsibility of each employee to learn to recognize fire hazards and how they can prevent fires.
Flammable Chemicals - All flammable liquids must be stored in Department
Of Transportation (DOT) approved containers and cabinets. All combustible materials must be stored away from potential ignition sources. Flammables should never be stored near oxidizers.
Smoking or open flames is never permitted in areas where flammable or combustible materials are stored or used.
Electrical Systems - All electrical systems, including electrical wiring, should be installed and maintained by bonded electricians and comply with the National Electrical Code (NEC). Cords to electrical equipment must be checked before use and replaced or repaired if found to be defective. All tools, equipment, and extension cords must be
grounded. Furthermore, all heat producing equipment must be regularly maintained according to established procedures in order to prevent accidental ignition of combustible materials.
Space Heaters - Space heaters are a fire hazard and accordingly, the employer may make the determination that they should not be permitted within the facility.
Extension Cords - Only power strips with an overload trip mechanism in the outlet
should be permitted.
Electrical Appliances - Facility occupants should be discouraged from having electrical appliances in their offices. However if appliances, e.g. coffee pots are necessary then they should be turned off every night.
For more information you may purchase one of our safety training DVDs on Emergency Action Plans.