Back when I played football I was on the “hands team.” The hands team was sent out on the field whenever there was the slightest chance our opponent would attempt an onside kick. I don’t recall our opponents ever attempting an onside kick, but that didn’t stop our coach from practicing this every Thursday before our Friday night match up. He wanted us to be prepared for every scenario. A workplace emergency, similar to an onside kick, isn’t something that happens every day, but you want to be prepared regardless.
A workplace emergency is any unforeseen situation that threatens employees, customers, or the public, disrupts or shuts down operations, or causes physical or environmental damage. These emergencies can be human-caused or natural. Examples include floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, toxic gas or chemical spills and releases, explosions, or workplace violence.
What Is An Emergency Action Plan?
An emergency action plan covers designated actions employers and employees must take to ensure employee safety from the types of emergencies that could impact the facility. The first step when developing an emergency action plan is to perform a hazard assessment to determine if any hazards in the workplace could cause an emergency. For instance, the presence of suspended combustible dust at certain concentrations in enclosed structures or equipment coupled with an ignition source can result in a dust explosion, hazardous chemicals when released can cause physical and health hazards to employees and the surrounding community, and natural disasters can occur about anywhere. At a minimum, each facility’s emergency action plan should include:
- The preferred method for reporting fires, explosions, chemical releases, and other emergencies.
- An evacuation procedure.
- Emergency escape procedures and route assignments such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe refuge areas (evacuation points).
- The names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside the company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the plan.
- Procedures for employees designated to perform or shut down critical plan operations, operate fire extinguishing equipment, or perform other essential services.
- Rescue and medical duties for trained employees designated to perform them.
The plan must also include the method for alerting employees of the emergency so that they can evacuate or take appropriate action. Employees can be notified by public address systems, portable radio units, or other types of visual or audible alarms. If alarms are used, they must be able to be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by everyone in the workplace.
Developing an Emergency Action Plan
When developing the emergency action plan, it is important to determine the conditions requiring an evacuation, a clear chain of command, and a designated person or persons at your location authorized to order an evacuation or shutdown. Specific evacuation procedures must be incorporated to include designated emergency exit routes, exits, and evacuation point(s). It is also important to designate which employees will continue to shut down critical operations during the evacuation and an accountability system to ensure that facility personnel are safely evacuated.
The plan must designate a primary coordinator to lead and coordinate the implementation of emergency procedures including notification of first responders. There should also be another who can fill in if the primary coordinator is not available. The coordinator is responsible for determining:
- whether an emergency exists that requires the activation of the emergency procedures within the plan,
- supervising response efforts, coordinating with emergency services such local fire departments,
- and directing plant shutdown operations.
Employee Understanding and Training
Employees must understand the function and elements of the emergency action plan. This includes the types of emergencies that could happen at the facility, reporting procedures, types of alarm and notification systems used, evacuation procedures including evacuation points and shutdown procedures, and any special hazards at the facility. Employee training should address:
- Individual roles and responsibilities.
- Notification, warning, and communication procedures.
- Emergency response procedures.
- Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures.
- The locations of emergency equipment.
- Emergency shutdown procedures.
Training should be conducted annually with all employees and whenever new employees are hired. Training should include:
- new equipment, materials or processes that affect evacuation routes,
- any changes in the layout or design of the facility,
- and whenever emergency procedures are updated or revised.
It is also recommended that emergency evacuation drills be performed routinely throughout the year for the specific types of emergencies identified within the plan such as fires, hazardous chemical releases, and severe weather.
Developing an effective emergency action plan is a critical step in the emergency planning process. Review your plan annually. Ensure that it covers the potential emergencies that could happen at your facility and practice your response procedures. Emergencies can come when you least expect it, be ready for the onside kick.
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations. US Department of Labor, 2001. https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/osha3088.pdf
Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, LLC. He has over 25 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org