Fire Evacuation Procedures for Work
Managers and business owners shoulder some of the responsibility for employee safety during an emergency. While no one can predict exactly when and where an emergency will occur, companies who put an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) into place are more adaptable and better equipped to handle an emergency than companies without a plan. OSHA recommends a five step approach to preparations for evacuation during a fire or other disaster.
Procedures Before The Evacuation
The foundation of any plan is the set of procedures employees and leaders will use whenever a crisis strikes. A clear set of plans helps employees avoid panic, and will make the evacuation of the building much smoother. OSHA requires a written copy of the plan on file for businesses in many industries or in high-rise buildings. A company’s evacuation procedures should include:
Conditions For Evacuation
Not all emergencies can be treated the same way. Moving employees outside is necessary during a fire, but would be disastrous during a tornado. The plan should account for all of the most likely possibilities and include safety protocols for each scenario.
Chain Of Command
When stress levels get high, employees need strong leadership to guide them to safety. The chain of command must dictate who within the company has the authority to order an evacuation, and who employees should follow as they make their way to escape routes. Responsibility can be divided amongst team members, but there must be a singular focus point for major decisions.
Labeled Escape Routes
Those employees responsible for leading the evacuation should know where all of the major exits are, and which ones to use for which type of emergency. Signs and notices throughout the building can provide an additional layer of safety, in case one of the leaders becomes incapacitated.
Employees who work with chemicals or in an industrial environment may need additional equipment to help during an evacuation. The company should maintain adequate levels of protective gear for employees in those situations and design a distribution program to hand out the equipment during an emergency.
The two most common types of emergency equipment are hardhats and protective goggles. Hardhats protect the head from falling debris, while goggles keep dangerous chemical mists and gases away from delicate eyeballs.
In the confusion of the evacuation, it’s easy for an employee to get left behind or lost, so it’s essential that companies keep an accurate headcount of employees after completing the evacuation.
The headcount is useful for first responders who enter a burning or collapsing building. If emergency team leaders are able to provide names, last known locations, and descriptions of any employee who did not make it to the rendezvous site, first responders enter the building armed with information to speed up the recovery process.
Each department or safety team needs to account for the personnel under their control. The leader of the team should take a quick count after arriving outside, then take the count to the emergency leader to let the leader know if everyone in that group made it out of the building safely.
In all but the most dire of emergencies, employees have a few minutes to handle critical tasks as they prepare to exit the building. These important tasks need to be assigned to employees long before an actual emergency and practiced as part of regular safety procedures.
- Examples of emergency assignments include:
- Moving from room to room searching for people who may not be able to make it out of the building on their own.
- Using a fire extinguisher to combat minor fires in an isolated part of the office.
- Securing essential files, valuables or cash into a fireproof safe.
- Shutting off gas lines to appliances in a restaurant.
- Providing medical treatment, such as ointment to burns, distribution of oxygen masks, or using CPR until first responders arrive
- Completion of these emergency assignments protects employees in the building, but also assist in business recovery plans after the emergency passes.
Once an emergency occurs it’s tempting to become focused on what’s happening on the site, and forget to provide notification to people who need it the most.
The first step is notifying employees in the building. There are several options to use for notification, from overhead buzzers to flashing lights or an intercom system. The chosen method of notification should be one unlikely to be compromised during an emergency.
Companies should designate someone with a clear head and calm demeanor to notify fire and EMT services as soon as an emergency breaks out. Limiting the office to a single point of contact with first responders eliminates the possibility of providing conflicting information or overloading circuits with requests for help.
Additionally, most companies need a procedure in place to inform business owners, corporate executives or a main office when there is an emergency. This notification can wait until after the evacuation, but the company may want a representative on-site with the proper authority to make major decisions.
The best safety procedures ever devised do no good for a business, if the employees are not trained in the implementation of the protocols. Regular safety meetings, and dry runs of emergency evacuations, keep employees informed about the latest procedures, and keep evacuation plans top of mind during an emergency.
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