Part of a comprehensive health and safety program should be a well-defined plan to deal with major emergencies. Would people know what to do in the case of an explosion at your workplace? Who would be in charge? Who would contact the fire department, the police, and the hospital? Does your company have an evacuation plan? What are the proper procedures if the power goes out?
An emergency plan would answer all of these questions, hopefully long before a real emergency occurs. It is much better to be prepared than to be surprised. For employees, it is helpful to know in advance what your responsibilities are in an emergency situation, rather than to find out after disaster strikes.
A good emergency plan begins with a vulnerability assessment. This assessment shows the organization where potential risks lie, and helps identify what can be done to prevent such situation. Finally, the assessment should outline the immediate steps to be taken if the risk becomes a reality.
If an emergency does occur, then a set of procedures must be followed that will protect individuals and property. In the special case of fire, the procedures may include:
- Declare that there is an emergency
- Sound the alarm
- Evacuate employees from the danger zone
- Call for help
- Initiate rescue operations
- Attend to casualties
- Fight the fire, if absolutely necessary
To accomplish all of these steps, there must be an emergency plan outlining individual authority and responsibility, all necessary supplies and equipment, and a storage map that shows where they are located. Needed supplies might include anything from flashlights to back-up generators, bandages to respirators. But most importantly, each employee must be trained and well informed of the emergency plan, as well as any role they are expected to play.
To be effective, an emergency plan must contain the following elements:
- An evacuation plan that all staff is familiar with and an easy to follow route that must always be clear of obstacles.
- Safe locations for employees to gather outside the emergency zone so that everyone can be accounted for.
- The ability to treat injuries, search for the missing, and simultaneously contain the emergency.
- An alternate source of medical assistance when the normal facilities may be affected by the emergency.
If you don’t have an emergency plan at your workplace, it is critical to devise one and to revisit the plan on an annual basis. If you do have a plan, find out what your role might be in the case of an emergency. At a minimum, know the plan and route so that you can evacuate, help others to do so, and prevent confusion at the last minute.