We have all been doing fire drills since we were in grammar school. But in a modern industrial environment there is a lot more to consider than just marching the students down the hall.
In a manufacturing situation, there are specific actions that need to be taken by machine operators to shut down the machines safely and to minimize the restart expense. And if you are not actually shutting down your machines for a drill, then you don’t know if your procedures actually work.
OSHA and other regulating bodies have various rules about how often evacuation drills are to be practiced. This article in no way supersedes those requirements.
Develop Your Evacuation Plan While You Can
To start or even update an emergency plan, start by addressing the following:
How well prepared is your business now?
What procedures do you already have in place for an emergency situation?
What potential emergency situations could occur?
To help address the questions above, look at these basic guidelines to develop an effective emergency response plan for your workplace:
For each potential emergency, determine if evacuation would be necessary.
Designate first and secondary evacuation routes and emergency exits. Make sure they are clearly marked and well lit. Post signs and maps on routes.
Check or install emergency lighting in case a power outage occurs during an evacuation.
Check all evacuation routes and emergency exits are and make sure they are wide enough to accommodate the number of people evacuating and the routes are always clear.
Designate a person to account for all employees, visitors, and customers.
Establish specific evacuation procedures and meeting place once an evacuation has taken place.
Hold emergency drills at least once a year to ensure that employees know what to do in an emergency and to test the effectiveness of emergency exit routes and procedures. Keep records of such drills.
Consider the transportation needs of employees.
Post evacuation procedures where employees can read them.
Establish procedures for assisting people with disabilities and people who do not speak English.
Consider how you would contact employees in an emergency. This contact sheet should include contact numbers, a family member’s contact numbers, and medical care information.
By following these guidelines, an emergency response evacuation plan can be installed in your workplace. Once your plan has been written and posted, test it.
Training will ensure all people will evacuate safely.
Evac Drill Objectives
The main objective of your drill should be to get everyone out efficiently and safely in the event of an emergency but, as a part of that, your objectives should include:
– Giving employees an opportunity to practice emergency procedures in a simulated environment
– Assessing whether employees can carry out assigned emergency duties
– Understanding whether the evacuation procedures were effective
– Considering any changes or adjustments to improve performance
– Complying with any fire code or insurance requirements
How often you hold evacuation drills should be determined by your local fire code, by your local weather hazards, and your workplace hazards. If your workplace presents serious fire hazards (eg. flammable materials) or complex exit procedures (eg. a high-rise building), fire drills should be conducted more frequently. For these types of workplaces, fire drills scheduled every three months may be appropriate, whereas other workplaces may only need drills every six months.
Announced vs. Unannounced
Employees prefer announced drills so that they can plan for the event and minimize disruption to their work, but unannounced drills provide a more accurate representation of evacuation readiness. The type of drill may also depend on your purpose for the event. For example, an announced drill may be preferred if you are introducing a new evacuation procedure. If employees are learning a new procedure, a scheduled drill will enable them to learn more effectively. However, since emergency situations are never planned, you also want to use unannounced drills to see how people will react and to make sure everyone can exit efficiently and safely.
Your safety team should debrief after each evacuation drill to assess how it went and whether any changes to procedures or roles are needed. They should consider things such as:
– Did the fire alarm go off?
– Did all employees hear the alarm?
– Did all employees evacuate?
– Did employees shut down equipment before they evacuated?
– Did fire doors release?
– Did the designated employees carry out their safety duties?
– Did employees follow evacuation routes?
– Were evacuation routes clear?
– Did any employees need assistance?
– Did employees go to assembly areas after they exited?
– Was everyone accounted for?
Using these questions, you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of your evacuation plan and make improvements. These are a critical part of workplace safety and can help protect employees from not only fire but also other situations that require a quick exit from the workplace such as power outages.