How would your employees escape from the workplace in an emergency?

Do they know where all the exits are in case their 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 your employees 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.

Check out the Safety Whitepaper, Developing an Emergency Action Program here

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. It is recommended that all employers have a written emergency action plan for optimal safety.

Check out the Post: Are Emergency Action Plans Really Necessary?

OSHA Requirements for Emergency Action Plans

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.

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 a draft plan, think about all possible emergency situations and evaluate the workplace to see if it complies with OSHA’s emergency standards.

Does your workplace need more assistance with Emergency Action Plans? Check out what the EHS Center offers members here

Exit Routes

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 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.

Exception: 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.

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.