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July 18, 2005
Are Employees Prepared for Emergencies?

Who needs to have an Emergency Action Plan? There are two different, but equally correct, answers to this question. The first answer is that OSHA requires an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) only for employers who are covered by certain standards, such as "Fixed Extinguishing Systems" and "Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals" (other standards also require EAPs). The second answer is that every company really should have an EAP. Not only does OSHA highly recommend it, but it simply makes sense to have a plan for a safe, orderly response to emergencies such as fires, weather events, releases of hazardous substances, etc. And note that even relatively minor incidents, such as small fires or spills, constitute an "emergency" if they trigger an alarm and require employees to stop what they're doing and evacuate their work areas.

What should an EAP contain? OSHA includes helpful guidelines for EAPs as an appendix to its standard on Exit Routes, EAPs, and Fire Prevention Plans (29 CFR 1910, Subpart E). In brief, the EAP should address any emergencies that might reasonably be expected to happen in your workplace and include:

  • Procedures for reporting the emergency
  • Evacuation procedures--ideally, the EAP should include floor plans showing exit routes and assembly points
  • How to account for all employees who have evacuated
  • Responsibilities of any employees who are designated to stay behind and ensure safe shutdown of operations
  • Responsibilities of any employees who may be designated to perform rescue or medical duties
  • Why It Matters...
    • OSHA estimates there are approximately 200 workplace deaths and 5,000 workplace injuries each year due to fire, one of the most common types of emergencies.
    • In FY 2004, OSHA issued more than 300 citations for violations of its rule on Emergency Action Plans.
    • Safety experts all agree that knowing how to act quickly and properly in an emergency is the key to saving lives and preventing injuries.

What should emergency response training include? Every employee needs to know what he or she is expected to do when an emergency alarm sounds--and further, to do it quickly. For most employees, the proper response is simply to evacuate the work area in a rapid but orderly manner, using proper exit routes, and to assemble in a designated "safe area." However, some employees--OSHA calls them "evacuation wardens"--should be given the responsibility for making sure that other employees leave the area properly and safely. OSHA recommends one warden for every 20 employees, and suggests that they receive specialized training in:

  • Knowing the complete layout of the building or work area, including the various exit routes
  • Giving guidance and instruction to employees during evacuation
  • Knowing how to assist employees, such as those with disabilities, who may need assistance
  • Checking all rooms and enclosed spaces to make sure that no one is left behind
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