Ask the Expert, Emergency Preparedness and Response

Ask the Expert: Building Sweeps After Emergency Evacuations

Experts at EHS Hero® recently fielded a question from a subscriber about conducting building sweeps after emergency evacuations. See what they had to say, including guidance from OSHA and information on emergency action plans.

Emergency Evacuations Safety Building Sweep

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Q: What are your thoughts regarding employers having people conduct sweeps of a building in the event of an emergency to ensure everyone is out?

A: Appointing certain employees to ensure all employees have exited your building during an emergency could be a viable safety measure provided you follow OSHA guidelines.

At 29 CFR 1910.38, OSHA requires most facilities to have an emergency action plan (EAP) that, among other elements, must describe procedures for evacuation, procedures to account for all employees after evacuation is complete, and procedures for employees to remain to perform critical plan operations before they evacuate. Even if you are one of the few companies for which an EAP is not required, it’s really a very good idea and certainly a best practice to develop and follow an emergency action plan.

OSHA has often stated that accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. The Agency emphasizes the importance of both establishing designated assembly areas where employees are trained to go to directly upon evacuating as well as selecting responsible individuals (aka “evacuation wardens”) to lead and coordinate evacuations. You could include in your EAP detailed procedures regarding the execution of both of these methods for ensuring that the facility has been properly evacuated. You may decide that a responsibility of the evacuation warden(s) is to go through a predesignated section of the building as they evacuate to ensure that it is empty of employees and visitors.

You might find the OSHA document How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations to be helpful. This document notes: “Generally, one warden for every 20 employees should be adequate, and the appropriate number of wardens should be available at all times during working hours. Employees designated to assist in emergency evacuation procedures should be trained in the complete workplace layout and various alternative escape routes. All employees and those designated to assist in emergencies should be made aware of employees with special needs who may require extra assistance, how to use the buddy system, and hazardous areas to avoid during an emergency evacuation.”

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