Preparing for emergencies to reduce the potential for employee injury or death is a large and complex task. To carry out your responsibilities effectively, you have to consider all the plans, policies, and people involved in emergency response.
Bad things happen to good companies and to their employees. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. businesses large and small have focused much more on emergency response planning than perhaps ever in our history. Yours is likely one of those businesses. The question is: Are you focusing all that energy and time on the right things?
OSHA on Emergency Planning
For most employers with more than 10 employees, OSHA requires a written emergency action plan (EAP) whose purpose is “to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies.” At workplaces with 10 or fewer employees, the plan can be communicated orally.
According to OSHA, a well-developed plan and proper training will decrease the number and severity of injuries and help reduce structural damage to a facility during an emergency. “A poorly prepared plan,” says the agency, “likely will lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury, and property damage."
We have already written ready-to-use emergency policies to supplement your EAP, along with every other safety policy you’re likely to need, in BLR’s Essential Safety Policies. Examine it at no cost and with no obligation to purchase. Get details here.
Plans and Policies
Your EAP should include at least the following components:
- Means of reporting fires and other emergencies
- Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments
- Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to run critical plant operations before they evacuate
- Procedures to account for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed
- Rescue and medical duties for employees who are expected to perform them
- Names or job titles of persons who can be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan
- Review of the EAP when it is developed or when an employee is initially assigned to a job; when the employee’s duties under the plan change; and when the plan changes
In addition to an EAP, you should also have emergency policies to formalize plans and procedures and communicate them to employees. Emergency policies should be published in your employee handbook, posted on your employee website, and provided to supervisors for employee emergency response training.
Safety consultant Bob Coffey (WRCSafety.com) frequently assists clients with emergency planning and in particular with employee training.
For effective emergency planning and response, Coffey says employees must be trained not just on what they’re supposed to do, but on why they’re supposed to do it. The result, he says, is better understanding and compliance.
He gives the example of the typical action plan that requires employees to gather outside at the flagpole or other high-visibility location, in case of an emergency. But why? The common belief is that this gives the employer an easy way to account for personnel.
True. But beyond that the purpose is to help protect firefighters on scene responding to the fire or other emergency. If firefighters believe that there are people inside the building, several may suit up and enter a burning building to find and rescue those inside. But if everyone is accounted for, firefighters may construct a defensive perimeter and fight from the outside.
Get the safety policies you need without the work. They’re in BLR’s Essential Safety Policies program. Try it at no cost and no risk. Find out how.
A hazmat spill provides another example. "Many people don’t realize that you don’t want to evacuate automatically in the case of a hazmat spill," Coffey says. That’s because of the possibility that in running away from the spill, one is actually running into a cloud of escaping chemicals. Employees might be safer in the center of a building, where heat and air conditioning units that circulate the chemicals can be turned off, rather than outside the building where residue is gathering.
Coffey also believes that in order to be effective, employee training should not overly burden employees. "If you throw more than three to five things at adults, you’re likely to lose them," he says. Coffey believes instruction and drills should focus on just a handful of requirements, but that these should be well understood and well practiced.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue with the vital topic of emergency response, featuring the best practices used by a business with a mature emergency response plan.
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