Poor emergency planning can mean disorganized chaos leading to injury or property damage. To avoid this, OSHA strongly recommends (and in some cases requires) businesses to have an emergency action plan in place. EAPs designate roles and responsibilities to employees during emergencies, and are designed to help organizations facilitate safe evacuations.
Emergency action plans should be well documented and accessible to employees. At a minimum, an EAP must include:
- Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency (i.e. chemical spills, electrical failure, earthquakes, etc.)
- Emergency evacuation procedures including exit route assignments, procedures for those who will remain to operate critical plant operations before evacuating, and procedures to account for all employees after evacuation.
- Procedures to be followed by employees who will be performing rescue or medical duties.
- Names and job titles of employees who can be contacted for additional information.
While not required, it is recommended to include a description of any employee alarm systems in use, the site of an alternative communications center, and a secure on- or offsite location for essential records
Prior to implementation of an emergency action plan, all employees will need to be trained on what kind of emergencies may occur in the facility, reporting procedures, and evacuation plans. Additionally, a certain number of individuals will be assigned roles (evacuation wardens, area hosts, etc.) and designated responsibilities. These individuals are key for ensuring a smooth and safe evacuation, so it is important they have a full and clear understanding of their roles and feel comfortable in carrying out their responsibilities.
Employers will need to review the EAP with each employee when the plan is developed, when an employee’s actions or responsibilities change, and when the plan is changed. The plan should also be reviewed to ensure only relevant and important information is updated – OSHA states that facility and agency contact information is the most common outdated item
Following the development of an EAP, it’s valuable for organizations to run evacuation drills. During an emergency drill, employees have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with safety procedures, emergency exit routes, and assembly locations. In the case of an emergency, having a thorough and well-thought emergency action plan can save lives.