OSHA strongly recommends that all employers have an emergency action plan. If the public entity has 10 or fewer employees, the plan may be communicated orally. Other employees must have a written plan, kept in the workplace and available for employees to review.
OSHA standards that require emergency action plans are:
The plan describes the actions employees should take to ensure their safety if a fire or other emergency situation occurs. To be effective, employees must understand their roles and responsibilities when an emergency occurs. The public entity should run emergency preparedness drills to give employees the experience of putting their knowledge to work before an actual emergency occurs. Once a quarter is not too frequent to test the plan. Many entities participate in citywide or countywide emergency preparedness drills that involve hospitals, fire, police, etc.
A comprehensive plan comprises issues specific to the entity’s worksite. It describes how employees will respond to different types of emergencies considering the specific worksite layout, structural features and emergency systems. Since the participation of all employees is critical to the plan’s success in an emergency, it is wise to ask for their help in constructing the plan.
No matter what system is used, it is very important that emergencies be reported promptly to an internal or external phone number. In some cases, employees are requested to activate manual pull stations or other alarm systems. If internal numbers are used for reporting emergencies, they should be posted on, or near, each phone. If external emergency personnel are used, the number is 9-1-1 or in some communities 3-1-1.
Once an emergency that requires a response from employees is reported, a system—typically an alarm system—must be in place to notify employees. Alarms must be:
To learn more about OSHA requirements for alarm systems go to OSHA’s Workplace Evaluation—Alarm System
Here is a sample policy. Your entity may want to modify this, which can be done electronically using OSHA’s Emergency Action Plan Expert System
Select an interior room or rooms within the entity, or rooms with no or few windows, and have employees take refuge there. In many cases, local authorities will issue advice to shelter-in-place via TV or radio. Procedures for sheltering in place can be found at OSHA site
Accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. Confusion in the assembly areas can lead to delays in rescuing anyone trapped in the building, or unnecessary and dangerous search-and-rescue operations. To ensure the fastest, most accurate accountability of the entity’s employees, consider including these steps in the entity’s emergency action plan:
The entity may decide that no employee will have rescue or medical tasks assigned to them. One rescue task would be to assist any medically incapacitated or disabled employees from the building. There should be a primary team and a backup team to accomplish this. Or specific employees who have been trained to use portable fire extinguishers, may stay behind to try to diminish a fire before leaving the building. See OSHA’s Using Public Resources for more information.
In addition to the alarm system mentioned previously, the entity may want to make available an emergency communications system, such as a public address system, for broadcasting emergency information to employees. There should be an up-to-date list of employees with emergency contact numbers and names. There should be a current list of VIPs who should be apprised of the situation and what action has been taken. Some examples are: the mayor, city manager, city council, school board, governor.
Educate employees about emergencies that might occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of the entity’s workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of onsite or outside resources will determine the entity’s training requirements. Be sure all employees understand the function and elements of the entity’s emergency action plan, including:
Discuss any special hazards the entity may have onsite such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances. Clearly communicate to employees who will be in charge during an emergency to minimize confusion.
General training for your employees should address the following:
The entity also may wish to train employees in first-aid procedures, including protection against bloodborne pathogens; respiratory protection, including use of an escape-only respirator; and methods for preventing unauthorized access to the site.
Once the entity has reviewed its emergency action plan with employees and everyone has had the proper training, it is a good idea to hold practice drills as often as necessary 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.
Schedule training when:
ADA Design Requirements for Accessible Egress, Access Board
Department Evacuation Plan, Northwestern University
Emergency Evacuation Strategy Fact sheet, Nonprofit Risk Management Center
Generic Emergency Evacuation Plan Implementation Guidelines, Harvard University
Hazard Communications Guidelines for Compliance, OSHA 3111, 2000 reprinted
Heat Stress Card, OSHA, 2002 revised
How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations, OSHA 3088, 2001 revised
National Fire Protection Association, 470 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02269, www.nfpa.org. A clearinghouse for information on fire protection and prevention as well as NFPA standards.
OSHA Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool
OSHA Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool, What Is an Emergency Action Plan
Sample Fire Safety & Emergency Action Plan, State of Minnesota