An emergency is a chaotic time, as part of a quality emergency response plan, there are specific considerations a workplace may require beyond a basic plan.

Below we review some of the special considerations you may need to include in your plan.

If you need more information about emergency response planning, check out what else the EHS Center has to offer here.


Persons with Disabilities

During an evacuation, a workplace may have employees requiring assistance, and should be considered as part of the evacuation section of your emergency action plan. Failure to account for employees or visitors within your facility during an evacuation, can result in unnecessary injuries, or worse death. Below are some of the standard provisions for persons with disabilities that may be included in your facilities emergency evacuation planning.

Disabled Persons

Persons using crutches, canes or walkers:

In emergency evacuations, these individuals should be treated as if they were injured. Have the individual sit on a sturdy chair, preferably a chair with arms, and follow the procedure for non-ambulatory persons discussed below.

Non-ambulatory persons:

Evacuation may not be necessary or advisable. Many stairwells are designed to provide temporary protection from fire or other danger. An able bodied volunteer shall stay with a wheelchair user on the stairwell platform while a second person notifies emergency personnel or paramedics of the exact location of the wheelchair user. If immediate evacuation is necessary, be aware of the following considerations:

  1. Wheelchairs have movable parts; some are not designed to withstand stress or lifting.
  2. You may need to remove the chair batteries; life-support equipment may be attached.
  3. In a life-threatening emergency, it may be necessary to remove an individual from their wheelchair. Use caution, as lifting persons with restricted mobility, may cause them bodily harm or injury.
  4. Wheelchairs should not be used to descend stairwells. Use an emergency evacuation chair.
  5. Non-ambulatory persons may have respiratory complications. Take them to a location away from smoke or fumes. Ask them if they have any needs or preferences.
  6. Check the evacuation routes for obstructions before assisting the person to the exit.
  7. Delegate other volunteers to collect the wheelchair.
  8. Return the person to their wheelchair as soon as it is safe to do so.

Providing Assistance

Always consult with people in the wheelchairs, asking them how you might assist them; i.e.,

  1. The number of people they require for assistance.
  2. Methods to remove them from the wheelchair.
  3. Taking precautions for pain, catheters, catheter-bags, limb-plasticity, braces, etc.
  4. Whether to carry them face-forward or -backward down a flight of stairs.
  5. Whether a seat cushion or pad shall be brought along, should the wheelchair be left behind?
  6. In lieu of a wheelchair, ask if they prefer a stretcher, cushioned- or padded-chair, or car seat.
  7. Whether paramedic assistance is required.

Visually Impaired

Most visually impaired persons shall be familiar with their immediate work area. In an emergency situation, describe the nature of the emergency and offer to act as a “sighted guide.” Offer your elbow and escort them to a safe place. As you walk, describe where you are and advise them of any obstacles. When you have reached safety, orient the person as to where you are and ask if any further assistance is needed.

Hearing Impaired

Because persons with impaired hearing may not hear emergency alarms, alternative warning techniques are required. Two methods are:

  1. Write a note describing the emergency and nearest evacuation route, “Fire. Go out rear door, to the right, and down. Now!”
  2. Turn the light switch off and on to get their attention, then indicate with gestures what is happening and what to do.

Fire alarms notify building occupants of an emergency, a quality system will have audible and visual signals to alert building occupants.

Not all buildings have a fire alarm system, instead using air horns and/or intercoms.

If your facility has a fire alarm system, ensure you include a section in your emergency action plan, and in the training on evacuations, so it is understood what the system means.

Fire Alarm

When the Fire Alarm sounds, act immediately to ensure your safety. The Fire Alarm System is designed and engineered to provide you with an early warning to allow you to safely exit the building during an emergency situation.

  • Never ignore or assume the alarm is false or the result of a test.
  • Everyone must evacuate the building by way of the safest and closest exit and/or stairway.
  • Never use an elevator to exit during a fire alarm activation.
  • Once outside the building, move away from the building. Assemble across the street or along the sidewalk of the adjacent building.
  • The front of the building is where the fire fighters and fire trucks will be operating. Do not obstruct their access to the building.
  • If there is an incident occurring on the upper floors and glass is being blown out of the windows, the area below is the hazard zone where serious personal injuries will happen. Do not remain in or near the hazard zone.
  • Once outside, never re-enter the building until you are told to do so by the fire department or police.

Emergency Exits

Emergency exits are something easily overlooked, until an emergency occurs.

What exactly constitutes an “emergency exit”? Is it different from a regular exit? What does OSHA have to say?

Exit Route – Definition

OSHA defines an exit route as “a continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety.” An exit route consists of exit access (the space that leads to an exit), the exit itself (which is separated from other areas so it protects people using the exit) and the exit discharge (which leads to the street, open space or a refuge area).

Exit routes are sometimes referred to as “means of egress” and are covered under OSHA standards 1910.36 (“Design and construction requirements for exit routes”) and 1910.37 (“Maintenance, safeguards, and operational features for exit routes).

While employers and safety managers will want to consult the regulations to make sure their facilities are completely compliant, the following lists of general rules of exit routes will help explain the basics. Many workplaces may already follow these requirements, especially those related to construction, but let’s take a brief look at construction requirements for exit routes. Then we’ll take a look at maintenance and safety features of exit routes that are necessary to achieve compliance.

Construction and Design Requirements for Exit Routes (1910.36)

First of all, exits must be designed for easy access. Keep the following rules for the construction and design of exit routes in mind:

  • Exit routes must be permanent.
  • There must be enough exit routes. – Usually this means two exits that are far enough from each other that both won’t be blocked by a fire or other hazard. Sometimes one exit is adequate or three or more exits are needed depending on the occupancy of the building.
  • Exits must lead to a street, refuge area, open space or other area with access to the outdoors.
  • Openings to exits must be protected by self-closing fire doors (to ensure those using the exit stay safe).
  • Exit doors must be unlocked so they can be opened from the inside.
  • Any room connected to an exit route must have a side-hinged door that swings outward (if more than 50 people occupy the room).
  • An exit access must be at least 28 inches wide.
  • An exit must be 7.5 feet high.
  • Fire-resistant materials should protect exits – If the exit connects one, two or three stories, these materials should have a one-hour fire-resistance rating. If the exit connects more than three stories, a two-hour resistance rating is required.

Ensure you understand what OSHA has to say about Emergency exits, both while operating and while building.

Maintenance and Safety Features of Exit Routes (1910.37)

Once proper exits are in place, it’s easy to think nothing else needs to be done to stay OSHA compliant. Like most parts of a workplace, however, exit routes require proper maintenance. They also need to have certain safety features. The following rules apply to exit routes:

  • Flammable furnishings and décor should be kept away from exit routes.
  • Exit routes should be unobstructed.
  • Exit routes should be well lit.
  • Door areas should be kept unobstructed.
  • Exit doors shouldn’t be obscured by decorations.
  • Doors that are not exits but are located near exit access points should be labeled “Not an Exit” or labeled with their use (for example, “To Basement” or “Closet”).
  • Signs should be posted directing people to exits.
  • “EXIT” signs must be placed at exits.
  • Routes must be maintained during any construction or repair work that occurs at the workplace.

OSHA has also published a fact sheet concerning emergency exits, which is available for members to view and download:

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OSHA has also published a quick card for reference concerning emergency exits, members can view and download it below:

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Ensure your emergency response plan includes all specific workplace considerations, to minimize confusion during an emergency.