As any security expert will tell you, the time to prepare for an emergency is before it occurs, not after. Incidents can happen anywhere, anytime, and often when you least expect them. By thinking ahead and creating an emergency action plan before disaster strikes, you can ensure workers have the tools they need to respond effectively.
What Constitutes a Workplace Emergency?
Plainly put, a workplace emergency is any situation that threatens building inhabitants, disrupts or shuts down business operations, or causes physical or environmental damage. Emergencies such as tornadoes, earthquakes, inclement weather, chemical spills, explosions, and many others are all hazards that can be addressed in an emergency action plan.
What is an Emergency Action Plan? Am I Required to Have One?
We discussed this in-depth in an earlier blog, but an emergency action plan (EAP) is defined by OSHA as a written document with the purpose of facilitating and organizing employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies.
An EAP is essentially a road map to safety, designed to assist building occupants in any number of potential emergencies. When combined with regular employee training, a properly designed EAP facilitates a faster, more organized response, minimizing employee injuries and facility damage during an emergency.
While not all businesses are required to have a written EAP, OSHA strongly suggests employers develop one to protect workers and the buildings they work in. Emergency planning is well known for the role it plays in protecting the health and safety of workers, and can only benefit businesses in the long run.
Minimum EAP Requirements
In order to meet OSHA standards, a business that is required to have an EAP must include:
- The preferred method for reporting a fire or other emergency
- Emergency evacuation procedures, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments
- Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate
- Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation
- Rescue and medical duties of any workers assigned them
- The name or job title of every employee who may be contacted by employees who need more information about the plan or an explanation of their duties under the plan
These are just the minimum requirements, however, and should not be seen as an exhaustive list. For a complete list of OSHA standards by industry, visit the OSHA Law & Regulations web page. You can also explore the standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or other standards-setting organizations for additional emergency planning recommendations.
How do I Communicate During an Emergency?
In order to be effective, a well-developed EAP must also include communication considerations. All workers, including those with disabilities, must be properly alerted to any potential emergency and the action they must take as a result. OSHA standards require employers to ensure that alarms are distinctive and recognizable by all workers, signaling the appropriate actions to take. These alarms must be able to be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by everyone in the workplace, such as visual devices for hearing-impaired workers and tactile devices for visually-impaired workers.
An EAP should also provide direction for reporting emergencies to local law enforcement, fire services, and others. This may take the form of a public address system, portable radios, or other communications devices.
Emergency Coordinators and Wardens
When developing an EAP, it’s important for those involved to know what role, if any, they’ll be taking. You should consider designating a responsible evacuation coordinator to lead and coordinate the emergency plan—someone who can follow it even in the most strenuous circumstances. Additionally, workers should be designated and trained as evacuation wardens to help move staff from danger to safety during an emergency, with a thorough knowledge of workplace layout, all available escape routes, and hazardous areas that should be avoided.
Your emergency action plan might be extremely well-developed, but without regular employee training, it will never reach its full potential. Workers need to be familiar with all aspects of the EAP, including potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures, as well as special site-specific hazards. This also allows workers to clearly identify those in charge during an emergency, streamlining the response and minimizing confusion.
Building Maps: Your Partners In Security Planning
Developing and implementing an EAP may feel intimidating at first, but it’s a well-proven and often necessary part of protecting a business’s most valuable asset: its employees. If you’re in the process of pre-incident planning, our team of industry experts is here to provide you with the safety maps you need. Contact us today for a quick and free quote.