Course 600 - Introduction to Occupational Safety and Health

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Emergency Action Plans


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Be ready to respond to and recover from disasters.
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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, likely will 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.

Elements of the EAP

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Develop an EAP to cover natural and man-made emergencies.
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At a minimum, the plan must include but is not limited to the following elements:

  • Means of reporting fires and other emergencies,
  • Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments,
  • Procedures for employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate,
  • Accounting for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed,
  • Rescue and medical duties for employees performing them, and
  • Names or job titles of persons who can be contacted.

Although they are not specifically required by OSHA, employers may find it helpful to include the following in the EAP:

  • A description of the alarm system to be used to notify employees (including disabled employees) to evacuate and/or take other actions. The alarms used for different actions should be distinctive and might include horn blasts, sirens, or even public address systems.
  • The site of an alternative communications center to be used in the event of a fire or explosion.
  • 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.

Reporting Emergencies

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Develop emergency reporting and communications procedures.
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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 dialing 911, or an internal emergency number, or pulling a manual fire alarm but there are many other possibilities.

  • Dialing "911" is a common method for reporting emergencies if external emergency personnel are used at your workplace.
  • Internal numbers may be used for reporting emergencies. If they are, they should be posted on, or near, each phone. Internal numbers sometimes are connected to intercom systems so that coded announcements may be made.
  • Employees may be requested to activate manual pull stations or other alarm systems.

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 Procedures

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Develop procedures for evacuation, shelter-in-place, and other responses to emergencies.
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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.

  • A disorganized evacuation can result in confusion, injury, and property damage. When developing the emergency action plan, it is important to determine the following:
    • conditions under which an evacuation would be necessary.
    • conditions under which it may be better to shelter-in-place.
    • a clear chain of command and designation of the person in your business authorized to order an evacuation or shutdown.
    • specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits.
    • specific evacuation procedures for high-rise buildings for employers and employees.
    • procedures for assisting visitors and employees to evacuate, particularly those with disabilities or who do not speak English.
    • designation of what, if any, employees will remain after the evacuation alarm to shut down critical operations or perform other duties before evacuating.
    • a means of accounting for employees after an evacuation.
    • special equipment for employees.
    • appropriate respirators.

During 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.

Exit Routes

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Example of an emergency evacuation floor plan.
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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:

  • 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.

When preparing drawings that show evacuation routes and exits, post them prominently for all employees to see. See OSHA's Interactive Floorplan Demonstration.

Assisting Others to Evacuate

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Develop plan to assist visitors and others in an emergency.
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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:

  • be trained in the complete workplace layout and various alternative escape routes if the primary evacuation route becomes blocked, and
  • be made aware of employees with special needs (who may require extra assistance during an evacuation), how to use the buddy system, and any hazardous areas to avoid during an emergency evacuation.

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.

Employees Who May Remain to Shut Down

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Designate those who will shut down in an emergency.
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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 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 immediate evacuation of all their employees when the evacuation alarm is sounded.

If any employees will stay behind, the plan must describe in detail the procedures to be followed by these employees.

  • All employees remaining behind must be capable of recognizing when to abandon the operation or task and evacuate themselves before their egress path is blocked.
  • In small establishments it is common to include in the plan locations where utilities (such as electrical and gas) can be shut down for all or part of the facility either by company employees or by emergency response personnel.

Accounting for Employees

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Example of an assembly area.
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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:

  • Designate assembly areas or areas Assembly areas, both inside and outside the workplace, are the locations where employees gather after evacuating.
    • Internal assembly areas within the building are often referred to as "areas of refuge." Make sure the assembly area has sufficient space to accommodate all employees.
    • Exterior assembly areas, used when the building must be partially or completely evacuated, are typically located in parking lots or other open areas away from busy streets. Try and designate assembly areas so that employees will be up-wind of the building.
  • Take a head count after the evacuation. Accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. Identify the names and last known locations of anyone not accounted for and pass them to the official in charge.
  • Assembly area design. When designating an assembly area, consider (and try to minimize) the possibility of employees interfering with rescue operations.
  • Account for others. Establish a method for accounting for non-employees such as suppliers and customers.
  • Additional evacuation. 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.

Fire, Rescue, and Medical Services

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Coordinate and communicate with fire, rescue and medical services.
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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 of Job Titles of Contact Persons

Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of employees who can be contacted for additional information and/or explanation of their duties under the plan.

Building Evacuation due to Fire - ACC Video

Viewing this video is optional.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Regarding Emergency Action Plans (EAPs), employers with more than 10 employees _____.

2. An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) must include all of the following elements, except _____.

3. If a company has more than ______ employees, emergency action plan MUST be written, kept in the workplace, and available for employee review.

4. Supervisors must designate and train their employees to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of all employees.

5. External assembly areas should be located _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.