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December 17, 2007
Are Your Employees Prepared for an Emergency Evacuation?

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, is your workforce 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 plan for emergencies in various ways. For example, you must:

  1. Have an alarm system to warn employees in the event of a workplace emergency (29 CFR 1910.165);
  2. Mark emergency exits clearly and make sure there is easy, unobstructed access to these exits at all times (29 CFR 1910.37);
  3. Post emergency phone numbers near phones and in other conspicuous locations around your department (29 CFR 1910.165);
  4. Have fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems (29 CFR 157-163); and
  5. Train employees to understand your emergency plan and respond to emergencies in ways that will minimize injuries and destruction of property (29 CFR 1910.38).
Why It Matters ...
  • OSHA requires you to have an emergency plan that includes plans for successful workplace evacuations.
  • You never know when an emergency could strike--all you can do is be prepared.

And if you have hazardous wastes at your facility, the federal HAZWOPER regulations state that you also need to have a plan and train employees to handle emergencies involving releases of hazardous substances (29 CFR 1910.120).

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 as well.
  • 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 for evacuating disabled employees and employees who might be injured during the emergency.
  • Have a method to account for employees once they've gotten out of the building.

And remember, practice makes perfect--and keeps you safe. Make sure all employees (even the bosses!) participate in regular emergency drills and simulations to give everyone the opportunity to practice evacuation and other emergency procedures.

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