Office buildings and workplaces are being built to higher safety standards than those of the past. Safety professionals, government officials, emergency responders and civil engineers are implementing preventative measures that ensure minimal chance of hazardous accidents and protection against disasters. Although prevention is the strongest defense against disasters and hazardous situations, emergency situations will always be a potential danger.
What exactly constitutes as an emergency? Emergencies are situations that occur rapidly and unexpectedly, making them extremely dangerous events that need to be handled with equal speed and care. Emergencies can cause confusion and panic, throwing the workplace into disarray and putting workers in danger. That is why an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is critical to workplace safety and workers’ health.
The Emergency Action Plan
An EAP (Emergency Action Plan) is a procedural document that identifies the best steps to take in an emergency. Each emergency will have its own EAP, though many will share several universal steps. The other steps will change to reflect each unique emergency and what needs to be done to ensure a safe and quick response.
Creating successful EAPs requires emergency professionals to consider all variables and possibilities. This is no easy feat. Fortunately OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) offers an Evacuations Plans and Procedures eTool, a checklist for designing and analyzing EAPs.
The following are a few questions from that list dedicated to producing the best EAP for work possible.
Does your plan consider all potential natural emergencies that could disrupt your workplace?
There are a wide variety of emergencies that may disrupt a workplace, some regionally specific and others that can happen anywhere and at any time. Understanding what emergencies to be prepared for and planning for them accordingly is a major part of a helpful EAP.
Natural emergencies are disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards and tornados. These can be more regional than other potential emergencies and call for different steps. Those in California will want to create an earthquake EAP, and Florida workplaces should prepare for hurricanes. Earthquakes and hurricanes produce similar dangers as well as recommend hiding within the workplace instead of immediate evacuation, but happen in different regions and vary to a degree.
Does your plan consider all potential man-made and health-related sources of emergencies that could disrupt your workplace?
Man-made and health related emergencies include fires, active shooters, heart attacks and seizures. These are universal and should be prepared for by every workplace. Fires and active shooters call for critical thinking to be a part of the EAP. It’s about finding safety, so an evacuation plan should be created but workers also need to know when to hide, take another exit, or follow the evacuation.
Health related emergencies like heart attacks, seizures and general injury are a potential danger to all workplaces. Certain fields of work have a higher risk for health related emergencies like construction work or working with volatile chemicals. It’s important for workers to understand the procedure for helping themselves and others quickly and correctly.
Does your plan consider the impact of these emergencies on the workplace’s operations?
Worker’s safety is the priority in EAPs, putting life and health over anything business related. With that established, an action plan should keep the workplace operation in consideration. If an emergency occurs, can business continue shortly thereafter and when? Will the workplace be safe enough to reenter or does operation need to move to a different location?
Business continuity is an important aspect of an EAP because it asks the necessary questions that allow work to continue. Information should be backed up and stored at different locations in case a large enough emergency renders the current workplace useless or dangerous.
Is a list of contact information for key personnel, first-responders and others available?
Communication can be the difference between staying safe and being in danger. Knowing who to call and keeping their information readily available can prevent an emergency from doing further damage or keep others safe.
For example, if someone accidentally ingests poison then a co-worker needs to reach the Poison Help line. If there is an active shooter, the police need to be reached as well as building security. Having the list available also means multiple forms of communication can be used. Even though cellphones are commonplace today, other communication methods should be available like landlines or radios. Reliance on one form of communication is risky, and creating a safety plan means identifying back up plans.
Under which conditions is evacuation necessary?
Certain emergencies will require the workplace to be evacuated. Disasters such as fires, explosions and floods make the workplace a dangerous environment, so a well-planned evacuation can save lives. It’s important for every worker to understand what route to take and how to identify specific people to lead or perform duties.
Not only does an evacuation plan need to identify the best routes, but it also needs to clearly designate jobs. Some jobs include calling the emergency authorities, leading to exits, staying behind until everyone is safe, or shutting down certain utilities like gas and electricity.
Preparing for the Unexpected
An EAP may never be needed, but workplaces must be prepared for anything. After prevention fails, an EAP is the next best way to handle emergencies. Workplaces rely on experienced and knowledgeable professionals who can create resilient plans that can withstand the unexpected. With these questions, any workplace can have an in-depth plan up to OSHA’s formidable safety regulations.
Earning a master’s in emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University can help you increase your knowledge of the safety industry and demonstrate a continued commitment to learning and leadership. Whether you aspire to work at the governmental level or move into the private sector, our distinguished faculty of safety professionals delivers a comprehensive curriculum that can translate wherever safety matters most.
OSHA, “Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool”
Ready.gov, “Emergency Response Plan”
Culture of Safety, “Developing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)”
Emergency Response Training, “The Top 5 Crisis Management Plan Questions You Need To Ask”
California Department of Health, “Earthquakes”
Health Resources and Services Administration, “First Steps in a Poisoning Emergency”