Emergency Action Plans (EAP)


Image of torado destruction
Plan for all forms of emergencies - natural and man-made.

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 standard 1910.38. 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.

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1. The Emergency Action Plan (EAP) may be written or communicated orally if there are fewer than _____ employees.

a. 5
b. 10
c. 15
d. 20

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Do you need an EAP?

Diagram of EAP Decision Tree
Do you need an EAP.
Click to enlarge.

Your company may be required by OSHA to establish an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) if you meet certain criteria. Check out the diagram to the right to see if your company needs an EAP. You can also find more information on establishing an EAP from OSHA Pub 2088, How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations.

Elements of the EAP

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.

2. Which of the following is a MANDATORY element in the Emergency Action Plan (EAP)?

a. Alternate communications center
b. Description of alarm systems
c. Means of reporting fires and other emergencies
d. Secure offsite storage areas

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Reporting Emergencies

Emergency Center
Develop emergency reporting and communications procedures.

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 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.

3. Which of the following are common methods of reporting emergencies in the workplace?

a. Dialing 911, internal phone numbers, and manual alarms
b. Cell phones, shortwave radio, and external numbers
c. VOIP calls, cell phones, and visual alarms
d. Radio communications, intercoms, and local emergency numbers

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Evacuation Procedures

Always have a plan to evacuate or shelter-in-place
Develop procedures for evacuation, shelter-in-place, and other responses to emergencies.

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.

4. Under the typical Emergency Action Plan (EAP), the employer may assign some employees to _____.

a. aggressively respond to uncontrollable releases of hazardous substances
b. fight all fires, no matter how big they are
c. extinguish small fires that are controllable
d. attempt rescue of trapped employees

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Designate Evacuation Coordinators

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;
  • Coordinating outside emergency services, such as medical aid and local fire departments, and ensuring 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.

5. In an effective Emergency Action Plan, who is designated as the person responsible for coordinating outside emergency services and ensuring that they are available and notified when necessary?

a. Safety managers
b. Firefighting teams
c. Evacuation wardens
d. Evacuation coordinators

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Assisting Others to Evacuate

Image of a wild fire
Develop plan to assist visitors and others in an emergency.

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.

6. Generally, how many available evacuation wardens is considered adequate during work hours?

a. Two on each floor of the building
b. One for every 20 employees
c. Two for every 10 employees
d. One for each department

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Employees Who May Remain to Shut Down

Image of a wild fire
Designate those who will shut down in an emergency.

Large companies may have certain equipment and processes that 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 to 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.

7. Why are some employees designated to stay behind and not evacuate immediately when an emergency occurs?

a. They are responsible for looking for stragglers
b. They will aggressively attack all releases of hazardous substances
c. They may be needed for contain and clean up hazardous substances
d. They may operate fire extinguishers, shut-off valves, and breakers

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Image of a wild fire
Example of an assembly area.

Accounting for 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:

  • 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.

8. What two types of assembly areas are common in Emergency Action Plans (EAPs)?

a. Internal and External
b. Specific and General
c. Upwind and Downwind
d. On-site and off-site

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Active Shooter Emergencies

Active Shooter Training conducted by Armoured One.

Although not originally considered as part of the emergency action plan, it's now important to include training with exercises to plan for the event an active shooter is discovered in the workplace. Together, the EAP and training exercises will prepare your staff to effectively respond and help minimize loss of life.

An Active Shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.

Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims.

Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.

How to Respond to Active Shooter Emergencies

Quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. Remember that customers and clients are likely to follow the lead of employees and managers during an active shooter situation. The Department of Homeland Security recommends you take the following actions:

1. Evacuate: If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. Be sure to:

  • Have an escape route and plan in mind.
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow.
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Help others escape, if possible.
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
  • Keep your hands visible.
  • Follow the instructions of any police officers.
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people.
  • Call 911 when you are safe.

Continue to the next section for more information on how to respond to an active shooter emergency.

9. You must have an active shooter plan because an active shooter emergency _____.

a. is usually over within 10 to 15 minutes
b. is very likely in your workplace
c. usually ends up with multiple injuries and fatalities
d. is not a recognized OSHA concern

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How to Respond to Active Shooter Emergencies (Continued)

2. Hide out. If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.

Your hiding place should:

  • Be out of the active shooter’s view.
  • Provide protection if shots are fired in your direction (i.e., an office with a closed and locked door).
  • Not trap you or restrict your options for movement.

To prevent an active shooter from entering your hiding place:

  • Lock the door.
  • Blockade the door with heavy furniture.

If the active shooter is nearby:

  • Lock the door.
  • Silence your cell phone and/or pager.
  • Turn off any source of noise (i.e., radios, televisions).
  • Hide behind large items (i.e., cabinets, desks).
  • Remain quiet.

If evacuation and hiding out are not possible:

  • Remain calm.
  • Dial 911, if possible, to alert police to the active shooter’s location.
  • If you cannot speak, leave the line open and allow the dispatcher to listen.

3. Take action against the active shooter. As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, DHS recommends that you attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by:

  • acting as aggressively as possible against him/her
  • throwing items and improvising weapons
  • yelling
  • committing to your actions

10. According to the Department of Homeland Security, you should confront an active shooter _____.

a. before he or she has a chance to begin shooting
b. only as a last resort and imminent danger
c. if you cannot find a hiding place
d. if others are in danger and no one has a firearm

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Image of a wild fire
Coordinate and communicate with fire, rescue and medical services.

Fire, Rescue, and Medical Services

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.

11. What should be confirmed when external agencies are used to respond to the company's EAP?

a. They must be familiar with the building and dangerous locations
b. They must be approved by the local community response team
c. They must be able to respond within 15 minutes of the emergency
d. They must practice response procedures at least quarterly

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Optional Video

We all have to be prepared for the possibility of an emergency incident on a work site. For this reason, it is the legislated responsibility of your employer to have an emergency response plan in place. This video by the Alberta Construction Safety Association discusses best practices for Emergency Evacuation Procedures.

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