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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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.
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 dialing 911, or an internal emergency number, or pulling a manual fire alarm but there are many other possibilities.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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:
Continue to the next section for more information on how to respond to an active shooter emergency.
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:
To prevent an active shooter from entering your hiding place:
If the active shooter is nearby:
If evacuation and hiding out are not possible:
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:
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.
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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.