Several OSHA standards require companies to have an Emergency Action Plan to organize and facilitate actions during workplace emergencies. Read on to learn how to develop and implement an EAP to keep your employees safe during emergencies.
Fires, chemical releases and other emergencies can quickly injure or kill employees. Is your facility prepared to respond? Being prepared isn’t just a good idea — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires it.
And posting an evacuation map on the wall and keeping doors and aisles unblocked isn’t enough. OSHA requires EAPs for most facilities, unless there is a fully trained and equipped fire brigade onsite that can handle emergencies so that employees will not need to evacuate. For those without a fire brigade, plans need to be comprehensive, site-specific and list any man-made or natural emergencies that the facility may face, as well as the roles and responsibilities of each employee when there is an emergency.
Basic Emergency Action Plan Requirements
In public places, many people panic because they don’t know how to exit the building they are in or they’re not sure what to do when they hear an alarm. In the workplace, a well-prepared EAP is one of the many tools that replace panic with preparedness and actionable steps to keep everyone safe.
When creating or reviewing your EAP, make it a team effort with representation from both management and a diverse group of employees. Each will bring a different perspective that can help identify unmet needs that others who are not familiar with a process or area may overlook.
Facilities with 10 or more employees must prepare their EAP in writing. The plan must address specific hazards and include at least the following elements:
- The method(s) that will be used to report a fire or other emergency
- A description of emergency escape routes and evacuation procedures
- A means of accounting for employees after an evacuation
- The responsibilities of employees who will perform rescue or medical functions
- Names or job titles of contacts that can provide information or services during an emergency
OSHA does not require the following, but most facility personnel find it helpful to also include:
- Specific employee roles and responsibilities
- Alternative means of communication in case the primary methods fail or become inoperable
- Descriptions of the alarm system, especially if multiple alarm signals are used
- Locations of backup record storage, employee contact lists and other essential documents
- Methods that will be used to train employees on the EAP
Implementing Your Emergency Action Plan
After a written plan is developed, it is important to communicate the plan and conduct training with employees. Many facilities designate an emergency coordinator who is responsible for assessing emergency situations, determining the scope of the plant shutdowns and evacuation, overseeing the process of evacuation, liaising with outside response agencies and taking an active role in incident command.
When this is the case, employees need to understand this person’s authority in an emergency situation. This person should be actively involved in training and drills so that everyone knows him or her and is comfortable following his or her direction.
Employers also need to designate an appropriate number of employees to oversee a safe and orderly facility evacuation. Plans, training and drills should clearly communicate who is in charge and who has been specially trained to help with evacuations.
All employees need to know their specific roles and responsibilities during an emergency. Your facility’s EAP needs to be reviewed when employees are hired, when there is a change in the plan and when an employee’s role changes. Most facilities review their EAP, conduct review trainings and have at least one drill annually — even if nothing has changed — to reinforce emergency training.
Effective training and drills will cover:
- Threats or hazards that may be encountered
- Notification and communication procedures for reporting an emergency
- Individual roles and responsibilities, including shutdown procedures
- Emergency response procedures, including evacuations, shelter in place and any other facility-specific plans
- The location and use of response equipment and personal protective equipment, such as respirators
- How to assist visitors, people who may speak another language and the disabled in an emergency
- Assembly points and accountability
- How family members can obtain information about employees if there is an emergency
- The name of the facility’s public information officer who is designated as the facility’s representative to speak to the media regarding the emergency
Including outside first responders (fire, police, EMS and hospitals) in annual drills is an increasingly popular way to help both onsite and offsite responders understand each other’s capabilities. Outside responders also provide additional perspective and can help identify plan and procedural strengths and weaknesses.
Emergencies catch many people by surprise. Employees who have been taught the purpose of the facility’s EAP and who regularly train and drill their specific roles and responsibilities when there is an emergency are more likely to respond appropriately and safely, which can help to minimize the scope of the incident and in many cases prevent it from becoming a major disaster.
After implementing an EAP at your facility, it’s time to think about what to do after an emergency. This is where a well-developed Business Continuity Plan (BCP) will be the difference between your facility opening up again or closing down forever. Download our white paper on BCPs to prepare your facility for business after emergencies.