Don’t wait for an emergency to find out how prepared your people are. Everyone in your organization, from the CEO down to the newest, lowest-level employee, needs to know how to act quickly and effectively in the event of a workplace emergency such as a fire, chemical spill, or other incident that requires the evacuation of your facility. Swift action can save lives and minimize injuries. But the question is: Are your workers prepared? Would each one of your employees know exactly what to do and where to go if an emergency occurred and your alarm system sounded right this minute?
OSHA requires you to have a plan for emergency evacuations. For example, you must: (1) Have an alarm system to warn employees in the event of a workplace emergency; (2) Mark emergency exits clearly and make sure there is easy, unobstructed access to these exits at all times; (3) Post emergency phone numbers near phones and in other conspicuous locations around your department; (4) Have fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems; and (5) Train employees to understand your emergency plan and respond to emergencies in ways that will minimize injuries and destruction of property.
And if you have hazardous waste at your facility, the federal HAZWOPER regulations require you to have a plan for training employees to handle emergencies involving releases of hazardous substances.
Planning and practice are the secret of safe evacuations. When you plan for the safe evacuation of employees, keep these steps in mind:
- Post floor plans indicating evacuation routes and emergency exits around your department in prominent places where employees will be sure to see them.
- Assign each employee a primary and alternate evacuation route from your department, and make sure that new employees get assigned an evacuation route during orientation, which should take place during their first few days on the job.
- Encourage employees to familiarize themselves with the evacuation routes from other areas of the facility where they go frequently, such as restrooms and break rooms.
- Develop plans for sheltering in place or a partial evacuation to safe areas of your facility as an alternative to a total evacuation, and train employees in these procedures.
- Talk to employees about appropriate behavior during an emergency evacuation (for example, remaining calm, moving quickly without running toward emergency exits, alerting others of the need to evacuate, and helping as directed by emergency response personnel).
- Plan to evacuate disabled employees and employees who might be injured during the emergency.
- Have a way to account for employees once they’ve gotten out of the building.
Remember, practice makes perfect — and keeps you, and your workers safe. Make sure all employees (including the bosses) participate in regular emergency drills and simulations to give everyone the opportunity for practicing evacuation and other emergency procedures.
For guidelines on keeping your office safe, please contact our risk management professionals.