How would you escape from your workplace in an emergency? Do you know where all the exits are in case your first choice is too crowded? Are you sure the doors will be unlocked, and the exit route, such as a hallway, will not be blocked during a fire, explosion, or other crisis? Knowing the answers to these questions could keep you safe during an emergency.
An emergency action plan (EAP) is a written document required by OSHA standards. The purpose of an EAP is to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies.
Well-developed emergency plans and proper employee training (such that employees understand their roles and responsibilities within the plan) will result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less structural damage to the facility during emergencies. A poorly prepared plan will likely lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury, and property damage.
Emergency action plans must be written. However, for smaller companies, the plan does not need to be written and may be communicated orally if there are 10 or fewer employees.
At a minimum, the plan must include but is not limited to the following elements:
Although they are not specifically required by OSHA, employers may find it helpful to include the following in the EAP:
Employees must know how to report emergencies. Some use internal telephone numbers, intercom, or public address systems to notify other employees. It is important for employees to also notify the proper authorities such as fire, medical, or rescue services if your company relies on this type of assistance during an emergency.
There are preferred procedures for reporting emergencies such as:
No matter what system is used, it is imperative that emergency situations be immediately reported. Fires and other emergency situations can reach dangerous levels in seconds, and any delay in getting emergency responders to the scene can result in additional loss of life and property.
Evacuation policies, procedures, and escape route assignments are put into place so that employees understand who is authorized to order an evacuation, under what conditions an evacuation would be necessary, how to evacuate, and what routes to take. Exit diagrams are typically used to identify the escape routes to be followed by employees from each specific facility location.
Evacuation procedures also often describe actions employees should take before and while evacuating, such as shutting windows, turning off equipment, and closing doors behind them.
Under the typical EAP, the employer will expect all employees to evacuate in an emergency. However, sometimes a critical decision may need to be made when planning - whether employees should be trained and responsible for extinguishing small (controllable) fires.
During the development and implementation of your draft plan, think about all possible emergency situations, and evaluate your workplace to see if it complies with OSHA's emergency standards.
Normally, a workplace must have at least two exit routes to permit prompt evacuation of employees and other building occupants during an emergency. More than two exits are required; however, if the number of employees, size of the building, or arrangement of the workplace will not allow employees to evacuate safely.
Exit routes must be located as far away from each other as practical in case one exit is blocked by fire or smoke. But, there is one exception to this rule: If the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, or the arrangement of the workplace allows all employees to evacuate safely during an emergency, one exit route is permitted.
Most employers create maps from floor diagrams with arrows that designate the exit route assignments. These maps should include locations of exits, assembly points, and equipment (such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, spill kits) that may be needed in an emergency. Exit routes should be:
When preparing drawings that show evacuation routes and exits, post them prominently for all employees to see. See OSHA's Interactive Floorplan Demonstration.
Many employers designate individuals as evacuation wardens to help move employees from danger to safe areas during an emergency. Generally, one evacuation warden for every 20 employees should be adequate, and the appropriate number of wardens should be available at all times during working hours.
Evacuation Wardens may be responsible for checking offices, bathrooms, and other spaces before being the last person to exit an area. They might also be tasked with ensuring that fire doors are closed when exiting.
Employees designated to assist in emergency evacuation procedures should:
Visitors also should be accounted for following an evacuation and may need additional assistance when exiting. Some employers have all visitors and contractors sign in when entering the workplace and use this list when accounting for all persons in the assembly area. The hosts and/or area wardens, if established, are often tasked with helping these individuals safely evacuate.
Large companies may have certain equipment and processes must be shut down in stages or over time. In other instances, it is not possible or practical for employees to stay behind to shut down equipment or processes under emergency situations, and everyone must evacuate.
However, smaller enterprises may require designated employees remain behind briefly to operate fire extinguishers or shut down gas and/or electrical systems and other special equipment that could be damaged if left operating or create additional hazards to emergency responders (such as releasing hazardous materials).
Each employer must review their operation and determine whether total and immediate evacuation is possible for various types of emergencies. The preferred approach, and the one most often taken by small enterprises, is the immediate evacuation of all their employees when the evacuation alarm is sounded.
If any employees stay behind, the plan must describe in detail the procedures to be followed by these employees.
Procedures to account for employees after the evacuation to ensure that everyone got out may include designating employees to sweep areas, checking offices and restrooms before being the last to leave a workplace or conducting a roll call in the assembly area. Evacuation wardens can be helpful in accounting for employees. To ensure the fastest, most accurate accounting of employees, consider including these steps in the EAP:
Although most of us quickly move away from the hazardous environments created during emergency situations, a group of dedicated and well-trained professional emergency responders and medical service personnel are tasked with containing and mitigating these incidents, rescuing individuals at-risk, and providing medical assistance to the injured.
Unless the company is a large employer handling hazardous materials and processes or has employees regularly working in hazardous situations, the company will probably choose to rely on local public resources to provide these specialized services.
If external departments or agencies, such as the local fire and police departments, medical clinics or hospitals, and ambulance services are used, make sure they are prepared to respond as outlined in the EAP. Make sure they are familiar with the building and any dangerous locations within the building.
Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of employees who can be contacted for additional information and/or explanation of their duties under the plan.
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