Developing a plan for how to respond to emergencies will help uncover hazardous conditions that could worsen an emergency. Once identified, you can control or eliminate these hazards. The planning process can also show where a lack of resources exists – i.e. equipment, training, personnel, supplies. Implementing the plan will save lives, minimize the damage to property and equipment, and in some cases, keep your community safe too.
Know the Risks
You can’t protect against what you’re not aware of. So, identifying what threats pose the biggest risk and are most likely to cause harm or damage is the logical place to start. That’s a tall order and it can be overwhelming at first glance, but here are some threats and examples to get your started.
- Severe weather/natural disasters – ice storms, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes
- Communicable disease outbreaks – SARS, pandemic influenza
- Interruption of essential services – power, water, electrical, mail, public transit and communications
- Damage to facilities – fire, water, collapse
- Computer failures – loss of data, cyber-attacks
- Labor issues – strikes, unsafe work environments, violence
- Proximity to railways & freeways, which could expose the workplace to chemical spills, dangerous goods
- Terrorism – anthrax, explosive devices
- Radiological/nuclear hazards – exposures, reactor incidents
Be a Better Supervisor
Once you’ve determined the threats you can begin to write or revise your EAP, implement it, and train employees on it. You can use the Fire and Emergency Response Workplan, Emergency Action Plan Checklist, and How Prepared are you for an Emergency Questionnaire to help you through the process. Below are more specific items to consider.
Emergency planning and response…
- Alerting Employees
Your plan must include a way to alert employees, including disabled workers, to evacuate or take other action, and how to report emergencies.
- Make sure alarms are distinctive and recognized by all employees as a signal to evacuate or perform other actions.
- Have emergency communications system in place – a public address system, portable radio unit, or other means to notify employees of the emergency and to contact local law enforcement, the fire department, and others; and
- Stipulate that alarms must be able to be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by everyone in the workplace. You might want to consider providing an auxiliary power supply if electricity is shut off.
Also, consider the following:
- Using tactile devices to alert employees who would not otherwise be able to recognize an audible or visual alarm; and
- Providing an updated list of key personnel such as the plant manager or physician, in order of priority, to notify in the event of an emergency during off-duty hours.
- Develop Evacuation Policy and Procedures
A disorganized evacuation can result in confusion, injury, and property damage. So, when developing your EAP determine:
- Conditions under which an evacuation would be necessary.
- A clear chain of command and designation of the person(s) authorized to order an evacuation or shutdown.
- You may want to designate an “evacuation warden” to assist others in an evacuation and to account for personnel.
- Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits. Post these procedures where they are easily accessible to all employees.
- Procedures for assisting people with disabilities or who do not speak English.
- Designation of what, if any, employees will continue or shut down critical operations during an evacuation.
- These people must be capable of recognizing when to abandon the operation and evacuate themselves; and
- A system for accounting for personnel following an evacuation. Consider employees’ transportation needs for community-wide evacuations.
- Call for Evacuation
- In the event of an emergency, local emergency officials may order you to evacuate.
- They may instruct you to shut off the water, gas, and electricity.
- If you have access to radio or television, listen to newscasts to keep informed and follow any official orders you receive.
- In other cases, a designated person within your business must be responsible for making the decision to evacuate or shut down operations. For example:
- In a fire, an immediate evacuation to a predetermined area away from the facility is the best way to protect employees.
- Evacuating employees may not be the best response to an emergency such as a toxic gas release at a facility across town from your business.
- Bottom line – protecting the health and safety of everyone in the facility is always the top priority.
- Coordinators and Evacuation Wardens
Employees designated to assist in emergency evacuation procedures should be trained in the complete workplace layout and various alternative escape routes.
All employees and those designated to assist in emergencies should be made aware of employees with special needs who may require extra assistance, how to use the buddy system, and hazardous areas to avoid during an emergency evacuation.
The coordinator should be responsible for:
- Assessing the situation to determine whether an emergency exists that requires activation of 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.
Designate evacuation wardens to help move employees from danger to safe areas during an emergency. Generally, one warden for every 20 employees should be adequate, and the appropriate number of wardens should always be available during working hours.
You also may find it beneficial to coordinate the action plan with other employers when several employers share the worksite.
- Establish Evacuation Routes and Exits
When preparing your EAP, designate primary and secondary evacuation routes and exits. To the extent possible under the conditions, ensure evacuation routes and emergency exits meet the following conditions:
- 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.
If you prepare drawings that show evacuation routes and exits, post them prominently for all employees to see.
- Account for Employees After Evacuation
Accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. Confusion in the assembly areas can lead to delays in rescuing anyone trapped in the building, or unnecessary and dangerous search-and-rescue operations. To ensure the fastest, most accurate accountability of your employees:
- Designate assembly areas where employees should gather after evacuating.
- Take a head count after the evacuation. Identify the names and last known locations of anyone not accounted for and pass them to the official in charge.
- Establish a method for accounting for non-employees such as suppliers and customers; and
- 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.
- Medical Assistance During an Emergency
- If your company does not have a formal medical program, investigate ways to provide medical and first-aid services.
- If medical facilities are available near your worksite, include them in your planning and work together to determine the best way to handle emergency cases.
- Provide your employees with a written emergency medical procedure to minimize confusion during an emergency.
- If an infirmary, clinic, or hospital is not close to your workplace, ensure onsite person(s) have adequate training in first aid.
- Treatment of a serious injury should begin within 3 to 4 minutes of the accident.
- Medical personnel must be accessible to provide advice and consultation in resolving health problems that occur in the workplace.
- Consult with a physician to order appropriate first-aid supplies for emergencies.
- Establish a relationship with a local ambulance service and discuss how to ensure transportation is readily available for emergencies.
- Employees Role in EAP
The best emergency action plans include employees in the planning process.
- When you include your employees in your planning, encourage them to offer suggestions about potential hazards, worst-case scenarios, and proper emergency responses.
- Specify what employees should do during an emergency, and ensure employees receive training for emergencies.
- After you develop the plan, review it with employees.
- Does it make sense to them?
- Do they have additional feedback?
- Does everyone know what to do before, during, and after an emergency?
- Keep a copy of the EAP in a convenient location where employees can get to it or provide all employees a copy.
- In some cases, if you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally.
- Employee Information
- In an emergency, it is important to have quick access to important personal information about your employees.
- This includes their home telephone numbers, the names and telephone numbers of their next of kin, and medical information.
Educate your employees about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action.
- The size of your workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of onsite or outside resources will determine your training requirements.
- Ensure all employees understand the function and elements of the EAP:
- Types of potential emergencies
- Reporting procedures
- Alarm systems
- Evacuation plans.
- Shutdown procedures
- Discuss any special hazards you may have onsite such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances.
- Clearly communicate to employees who will be in charge during an emergency to minimize confusion.