An emergency action plan covers designated actions employers and employees must take to ensure employee safety from fire and other emergencies. Not all employers are required to establish an emergency action plan. Even if you are not specifically required to do so, compiling an emergency action plan is a good way to protect yourself, your employees, and your business during an emergency.
You may find it beneficial to include your management team and employees in the process. Explain your goal of protecting lives and property in the event of an emergency, and ask for their help in establishing and implementing your emergency action plan. Their commitment and support are critical to the plan’s success.
What is an emergency action plan?
An emergency action plan is a written document required by particular OSHA standards. The purpose of an employee action plan is to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies. Well-developed emergency plans and proper employee training (such that employees understand their roles and responsibilities within the plan) may result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less structural damage to the facility during emergencies.
Does our company need an emergency action plan?
Almost every business is required to have an emergency action plan. You can use OSHA’s online Expert System to determine whether your company is required to establish a plan. Generally, if fire extinguishers are required or provided in your workplace, and if anyone will be evacuating during a fire or other emergency, then OSHA’s regulations require you to have an emergency action plan.
How can our company create an emergency action plan?
When developing your emergency action plan, it’s a good idea to look at a wide variety of potential emergencies that could occur in your workplace. It should be tailored to your worksite and include information about all potential sources of emergencies. Developing an emergency action plan means you should do a hazard assessment to determine what, if any, physical or chemical hazards in your workplaces could cause an emergency. If you have more than one worksite, each site should have an emergency action plan.
Keep a copy of your emergency action plan in a convenient location where employees can get to it, or provide all employees a copy. If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally.
OSHA’s Emergency Action Plan Expert System Can Help
You can use OSHA’s online Emergency Action Plan Expert System to help you write a simple emergency action plan for your company. According to OSHA, this basic plan will be adequate for the needs of many small and medium-sized entities, but may not be adequate for large establishments or those with more significant hazards. Users in such establishments should consider the special characteristics of their workplaces. Users can supplement this basic plan to address any situations that require special attention.
Note that the OSHA Expert System only provides information based on Federal OSHA Emergency Action Plan requirements. If you are covered by a state OSHA plan, you may need to contact your local state OSHA office.
What should an emergency action plan include?
At a minimum, your emergency action plan should include the following elements:
- Means of reporting fires and other emergencies;
- Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments;
- Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate;
- Procedures to account for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed;
- Rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them; and
- Names or job titles of persons who can be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan.
Although not specifically required by OSHA, you may find it helpful to include the following in your plan:
- A description of the alarm system to be used to notify employees (including disabled employees) to evacuate and/or take other actions. The alarms used for different actions should be distinctive and might include horn blasts, sirens, or even public address systems.
- The site of an alternative communications center to be used in the event of a fire or explosion; and
- A secure on- or offsite location to store originals or duplicate copies of accounting records, legal documents, your employees’ emergency contact lists, and other essential records.
Alerting Employees to an Emergency
Your plan must include a way to alert employees, including disabled workers, to evacuate or take other action, and how to report emergencies, as required. Among the steps you must take are the following:
- Make sure alarms are distinctive and recognized by all employees as a signal to evacuate the work area or perform actions identified in your plan;
- Make available an emergency communications system such as a public address system, portable radio unit, or other means to notify employees of the emergency and to contact local law enforcement, the fire department, and others; and
- Stipulate that alarms must be able to be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by everyone in the workplace.
What type of training should our employees receive?
You will want to educate your employees about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of your workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of onsite or outside resources will determine your training requirements.
Be sure all your employees understand the function and elements of your emergency action plan, including types of potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures. Discuss any special hazards you may have onsite such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances. Clearly communicate to your employees who will be in charge during an emergency to minimize confusion.
General training for your employees should address the following:
- Individual roles and responsibilities;
- Threats, hazards, and protective actions;
- Notification, warning, and communications procedures;
- Means for locating family members in an emergency;
- Emergency response procedures;
- Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures;
- Location and use of common emergency equipment; and
- Emergency shutdown procedures.
Once you have reviewed your emergency action plan with your employees and everyone has had the proper training, you may want to hold practice drills to keep employees prepared. Include outside resources such as fire and police departments when possible. After each drill, gather management and employees to evaluate the effectiveness of the drill. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your plan and work to improve it.