Emergency Preparedness and Response: Getting Started

General Business Preparedness for General, Construction and Maritime Industries


Emergencies and disasters can strike anywhere and at any time bringing workplace injuries and illnesses with them. Employers and workers may be required to deal with an emergency when it is least expected and proper planning before an emergency is necessary to respond effectively.

This webpage is designed to help workers and employers plan for that possibility. The best way to protect workers is to expect the unexpected and to carefully develop an emergency action plan to guide everyone in the workplace when immediate action is necessary. Planning in advance helps ensure that everyone knows what to do when an emergency occurs.

What is a workplace emergency?

A workplace emergency is a situation that threatens workers, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage. Emergencies may be natural or man-made, and may include hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, winter weather, chemical spills or releases, disease outbreaks, releases of biological agents, explosions involving nuclear or radiological sources, and many other hazards. Many types of emergencies can be anticipated in the planning process, which can help employers and workers plan for other unpredictable situations.

The Emergency Preparedness and Response landing page provides a listing of all of the specific hazards for which the Agency currently has information available on its website, as well as links to general emergency preparedness and response guidance.

What are OSHA's requirements for emergencies?

Some key OSHA requirements for emergencies can be found in the following sections of standards for general industry (29 CFR 1910), construction (29 CFR 1926), and maritime (29 CFR 1915, 1917, and 1918). The table may not list all standards that apply to all situations.

The following table is best viewed on a tablet or pc.

Means of Egress
General Industry Construction Maritime (Shipyards, Marine Terminals, and Longshoring)
1910.35-37 - Means of egress 1926.34 - Means of egress  
1910.38 – Emergency action plans 1926.35 – Emergency action plans 1917.30 - Emergency action plan
1918.100 - Emergency action plans
Appendix - Means of egress 1926.150 - Fire prevention plans 1915.502 - Fire safety plan
Hazardous Materials
1910.119 - Process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals 1926.64, Process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals. For requirements as they pertain to construction work, follow the requirements in 29 CFR 1910.119. 1918.89 - Handling hazardous cargo
1910.120 - Hazardous waste operations and emergency response 1926.65 - Hazardous waste operations and emergency  
Personal Protective Equipment
1910.132 - General 1926.28 - Wearing appropriate PPE
1926.95- General
1915 Subpart I - Personal Protective Equipment
1917 Subpart E – Personal Protection
1918 Subpart J - Personal Protective Equipment
1910.133 - Eye and face protection 1926.102 - Eye and face protection 1915.153 - Eye and face protection
1917.91 - Eye protection
1918.101 - Eye and face protection
1910.134 - Respiratory protection 1926.103 - Respiratory protection 1915.154 - Respiratory protection
1917.92 - Respiratory protection
1918.102 - Respiratory protection
1910.135 - Occupational head protection 1926.100 - Occupational head protection 1915.155 - Head protection
1917.93 - Head protection
1918.103 - Head protection
1910.136 - Occupational foot protection 1926.96 - Occupational foot protection 1915.156 - Foot protection
1917.94 – Foot protection
1918.104 - Foot protection
1910.137 - Electrical protective devices 1926.97 - Electrical protective devices  
1910.138 - Hand protection   1915.157 - Hand and body protection
    1915.158 - Lifesaving equipment
    1917.95 – Other protective measures
1918.105 - Other protective measures.


General Environmental Controls
1910.146 - Permit-required confined spaces 1926.1200 - Confined spaces in construction 1915 Subpart B - Confined and Enclosed Spaces and Other Dangerous Atmospheres in Shipyard Employment
1910.147 - Control of hazardous energy sources 1926.417 - Control of hazardous energy sources 1915.89 - Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tags-plus)
Medical and First Aid
1910.151 - Medical services and first aid 1926.50 - Medical services and first aid 1915.87 - Medical services and first aid
1917.26 - First aid and lifesaving facilities
Fire Protection
1910 Subpart L - Fire protection 1926.150-.151/1926.2 - Fire protection and fire brigades 1915 Subpart P - Fire Protection in Shipyard Employment
1910.157-163 - Fire suppression equipment 1926.156-157 - Fire suppression equipment 1915.504 - Fire watches
1910.164 - Fire detection systems 1926.158 - Fire detection systems 1915.508 - Training
1910.165 - Alarm systems 1926.159 - Alarm systems 1915.505 - Fire response
Appendices A-E of Subpart L    
Toxic and Hazardous Substances
1910.1030 - Bloodborne pathogens 1926.21(b)(2)/1926.250 - Separation for Waste (sharps, etc.)
1926.25 - Housekeeping
1926.28 - Personal Protective Equipment
1917.23 - Hazardous atmosphere and substances
1918.93 - Hazardous atmospheres and substances
1910.1200 - Hazard communication 1926.59 - Hazard communication 1918.90 - Hazard communication
    1918.94 - Ventilation and atmospheric conditions
    1918.97 - First aid and lifesaving facilities


Additional OSHA standards may apply. The OSHA Law & Regulations web page provides a complete list of OSHA standards by industry.

What other OSHA standards address emergency planning requirements?

Several OSHA standards address emergency planning requirements, including 29 CFR 1910.38; 29 CFR 1926.35; Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) (29 CFR 1910.120(q)); Fire Brigades (29 CFR 1910.156); and Permit-Required Confined Spaces (29 CFR 1910.146(k), 29 CFR 1926.1211). OSHA Publication 3122, Principal Emergency Response and Preparedness Requirements in OSHA Standards and Guidance for Safety and Health Problems, provides a broad overview of emergency planning requirements in OSHA standards.

Employers should also be familiar with the consensus standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and other standards-setting organizations, as these may provide additional recommendations and requirements about emergency planning. The NFPA develops, publishes, and disseminates hundreds of consensus codes and standards intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks. Virtually every building, process, service, design, and installation in society today is affected by NFPA documents. NFPA codes and standards are adopted and used throughout the world. For more information about NFPA and their codes and standards, visit their website at www.nfpa.org.

What is an emergency action plan?

An emergency action plan (EAP) is intended to facilitate and organize employer and worker actions during workplace emergencies and is recommended for all employers. Well-developed emergency plans and proper worker training (i.e., so that workers understand their roles and responsibilities within the plan) will result in fewer and less severe worker injuries and less damage to the facility during emergencies. A poorly prepared plan may lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury, illness (due to chemical, biological and/or radiation exposure), and/or property damage.

Two OSHA standards (29 CFR 1910.38(a) and 29 CFR 1926.35) require written EAPs. Not all employers are required to establish an EAP (see section titled "Am I required to have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)" to see if your business is required), but developing an EAP is a good way to protect workers and businesses during an emergency. Emergency preparedness is a well-known concept in protecting workers' safety and health.

Putting together a comprehensive emergency action plan involves conducting a hazard assessment to determine what, if any, physical or chemical hazards inside or from outside the workplaces could cause an emergency. The plan should describe how workers will respond to different types of emergencies, taking into account specific worksite layouts, structural features, and emergency systems. If there is more than one worksite, each site should have an emergency action plan.

Most organizations find it beneficial to include a diverse group of representatives (management, workers, local health departments and agencies, and public safety officials/members) in this planning process and to meet frequently to review progress and allocate development tasks. Outside representatives from federal, state and local agencies may be able to assist organizations with incorporating other requirements or guidelines into their EAPs. The commitment and support of all workers and employers is critical to the plan's success in the event of an emergency; ask for worker input in developing and implementing an EAP. For smaller organizations with 10 or fewer workers, the plan does not need to be written and may be communicated orally (General Industry Standard - 29 CFR 1910.38(b), Construction Industry Standard - 29 CFR 1926.35(e)(3)).

Am I required to have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)?

Workplaces covered by the following standards may be required to have an EAP:

Under OSHA's fire extinguisher standard, 29 CFR 1910.157, an EAP is required if the employer:

  • wishes to comply with only paragraphs (e) and (f) of the standard when providing extinguishers that are not intended for employee use, or
  • when the employer does not provide extinguishers and intends to totally evacuate the workplace on the sounding of the fire alarm.

If you are still unsure about whether you are required to have an EAP, use OSHA's Expert System to help you determine your EAP requirements.

At a minimum, for businesses that are required to have an emergency action plan (EAP), the plan must include:
  • A preferred method and/or procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(1) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(5));
  • Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe or refuge areas (example shown below) (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(2) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(1));
  • Procedures to account for all workers after an evacuation, such as designating an assembly location (e.g., a safe/refuge area) (29 CFR 1910.38(b)(4) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(3));
evacuation map
Example Evacuation Floor Diagram


  • Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside the company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(6) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(6));
  • Procedures for workers who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers, or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(3) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(2)); and
  • Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(5) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(4)).
In addition, although not specifically required by OSHA's EAP standard, other emergency preparedness actions include:
  • Posting emergency numbers in the workplace for the fire brigade, fire department, and other appropriate emergency responders;
  • Inviting external emergency responders to tour the facility to learn about hazards, the facility’s processes, protective features and systems, and proper actions to take (or not to take) during emergencies. Tours should account for different shifts of firefighters;
  • Coordinating tours for volunteer firefighters at times that accommodate their work schedules;
  • Arranging training drills for responders and facility personnel to practice emergency procedures together;
  • Designating a facility liaison to coordinate with emergency responders and keep them updated if hazards or processes change;
  • Designating one or more emergency contact persons that are knowledgeable of the facility’s hazards and processes and ensure their contact information is quickly accessible during emergencies;
  • Designating staff responsible to inventory and maintain emergency equipment and supplies;
  • Including a description of the alarm system in the emergency plan to be used to notify workers (including disabled workers) to evacuate and/or take other actions. The alarms used for different actions should be distinctive and might include horn blasts, sirens, or even public address systems;
  • Identifying the site of an alternative facility for communications to be used in the event the primary facility is inaccessible because of emergencies, such as a fire or explosion; and
  • Storing original or duplicate copies of accounting records, legal documents, worker emergency contact lists, building plans, HAZMAT lists, and other essential records at a secure on-site or off-site location.
How to alert workers of an emergency?

If a business is required to have an EAP, the plan must include a way to alert workers, including disabled workers, to evacuate or take other action (see 29 CFR 1910.38(d) and 29 CFR 1926.35(c)). These standards require:

  • Employers to ensure that alarms are distinctive and recognized by all workers as a signal to evacuate the work area or perform actions identified in the plan; and
  • Alarms to be able to be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by everyone in the workplace. Local fire codes require an auxiliary power supply in the event that electricity is shut off. (29 CFR 1910.165(b)(2) offers requirements for alarms.)

The EAP must also state how employees are to report emergencies. Employers should consider making available an emergency communication system, such as a public address system, portable radios, or other communications tools to assist in contacting local law enforcement, the fire brigade (if provided), the fire service (e.g., local fire department), and others. These communication systems may also serve as additional means of notifying workers of an emergency. Employers should also provide an updated list of key personnel such as the plant manager or physician, in order of priority, to notify in the event of an emergency during off-duty hours.

The Employee Alarm Systems standard (29 CFR 1910.165) is also aimed at ensuring alarms are able to be perceived by all workers at a worksite, including those with physical impairments (see OSHA's 1990 interpretation of the standard). Accordingly:

  • Use visual devices to alert hearing-impaired workers (in addition to audible devices); and
  • Use tactile devices to alert visually-impaired workers (in addition to audible and visual devices).
Emergency Plan and Evacuation Coordinators

When drafting an emergency action plan, consider selecting a responsible individual to lead and coordinate the emergency plan and evacuation. It is critical that workers know who the coordinator is and understand that the coordinator has the authority to make decisions during emergencies.

The Coordinator should be responsible for:

  • Assessing the situation to determine whether an emergency exists and if so, requiring activation of emergency procedures;
  • Supervising all emergency efforts in the area, including evacuating personnel;
  • Ensuring that external emergency services, such as the local fire department or emergency medical service, are available and notified when necessary; and coordinating these services when they arrive on site; and
  • Directing the shutdown of plant operations when required;
  • Ensuring that only trained workers use portable fire extinguishers;
  • Ensuring that routes for emergency vehicles and paths for emergency responder access are clear;
  • Informing arriving emergency responders of the incident location, conditions, and status of occupants; and
  • Having knowledgeable workers available to advise emergency responders.

It may be beneficial to coordinate the action plan with other employers that share the worksite, although OSHA standards do not specifically require this.

Evacuation Wardens

In addition to a coordinator, designate and train workers as evacuation wardens to help move workers from danger to safe areas during an emergency (see 29 CFR 1910.38(e) and 1926.35(e)(1)). Generally, one warden for every 20 workers should be adequate, and the appropriate number of wardens should be available at all times during working hours.

Workers (e.g. coordinators or wardens) designated to assist in emergency evacuation procedures should be trained in the complete workplace layout and various alternative escape routes. All workers should be made aware of workers with special needs who may require extra assistance; how to use the buddy system (i.e., procedure where two people, the "buddies", operate together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other); and hazardous areas to avoid during an emergency evacuation.

What type of training do workers need?
  • Educate workers about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of the workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of on-site or outside resources will determine the specific training requirements.
  • Ensure that all workers understand the function and elements of the emergency action plan, including types of potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures.
  • Discuss any special hazards on site such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances.
  • Clearly identify and communicate to workers specifically who will be in charge during an emergency to minimize confusion.

Topics for worker training:

  • Individual roles and responsibilities;
  • Threats, hazards, and protective actions;
  • Notification, warning, and communications procedures;
  • Means for contacting family members in an emergency;
  • Any special tasks that workers may be called upon to perform during an emergency (if applicable);
  • Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures;
  • Location and use of common emergency equipment;
  • Who is authorized to perform emergency shutdown procedures (if any);
  • First-aid procedures;
  • Protection against bloodborne pathogens (also see the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030);
  • Respiratory protection (also see the Respiratory Protection standards, 29 CFR 1910.134 and 29 CFR 1926.103); and
  • Methods for preventing unauthorized access to the site.

After reviewing the emergency action plan with workers and ensuring everyone has completed the proper training, it is a good idea to hold practice drills as often as necessary to keep workers prepared. It is also a good idea to include outside resources, such as fire and police departments, in the practice drills whenever possible. After each drill, employers should: gather management and workers together to evaluate the effectiveness of the drill; identify the strengths and weaknesses of the plan; and ways to improve the plan.

How often to train workers?

Review the plan with all workers and consider requiring annual training on the plan. Also conduct training after:

  • Development of the initial plan;
  • Hiring of new workers;
  • Introduction of new equipment, materials, or processes into the workplace that affect evacuation routes;
  • Reassignment of workers or changing their job duties;
  • Change of layout or design of the facility; and
  • Revision or updating of emergency procedures.

Worker Protection during High-Hazard and/or Unique Emergency Operations

During high-hazard or other unique emergency operations, an employer should work with the incident commander*, unified command staff*, and other health and safety personnel to limit worker exposures to all hazards through a combination of engineering and administrative controls and safe work practices, supplemented by PPE (personal protective equipment).

*See the DHS/FEMA National Incident Management System (NIMS) page for guidance on implementing the ICS during an actual emergency response.

Employers should work with emergency response organizations in their jurisdictions to ensure the organizations are prepared to respond to and safely perform needed rescue operations that may pose unique or particularly hazardous conditions for emergency responders. This may include preparing, training, and exercising capabilities for response and rescue operations at steep angles or heights, or in the presence of chemical or other hazards such as in pits, tanks, manholes, boilers, furnaces, silos, hoppers, vaults, pipes, ducts, and bins or on slopes, communication towers, or other tall structures, including those under construction; in confined spaces, trenches, or underground; and over, near, or in water of various depths. Such operations may require special engineering and administrative controls, work practices, and PPE to protect emergency response and recovery workers.

Additional Resources

How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Booklet to help employers and workers plan for evacuations following emergencies or disasters.

Emergency Response Resources, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Numerous emergency preparedness and response resources for business owners and managers, including links to:

  • Management planning guides
  • Facility protection instructions
  • Emergency contacts

Prepare Your Workplace and Employees. American Red Cross (ARC).
Website of the American Red Cross which links to resources on personal emergency kits, emergency planning, and communications.

Prepare Your Workplace. American Red Cross (ARC).
The American Red Cross Ready Rating™, a first-of-its-kind membership program designed to help businesses, organizations and schools become better prepared for emergencies. Members join this free, self-paced program and complete a 123-point self-assessment of your business’ level of preparedness to identify areas for improvement.

Get Started: Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Small Business. American Red Cross (ARC).

Having an emergency preparedness plan in place is as important to the survival of your small business as your business plan. Ask yourself the questions in this checklist to help you get back in business after a disaster.

Preparedness Planning for Your Business. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Includes specific suggestions for protecting businesses from disasters by taking precautionary actions, planning drills, and getting supplies. The resources includes several downloadable checklists, plans, and discussion topics.

Among the topics covered are:

  • Emergency planning
  • Involving workers in emergency planning and practices
  • Protecting physical assets

Disaster Preparedness, Small Business Administration (SBA).

SBA publications on such topics as:

  • Preparing a small business for disaster
  • Planning to cut disaster recovery time, expense
  • Disaster assistance

It also has a list of other websites that offer assistance in disaster planning and response for small businesses.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600, Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs, NFPA, 2013 Edition.

The NFPA 1600 standard establishes a common set of criteria for all hazards disaster/emergency management and business continuity programs. The emergency management and business continuity community comprises many different entities, including the government at distinct levels (e.g., federal, state/provincial, territorial, tribal, indigenous, and local levels); business and industry; nongovernmental organizations; and individual citizens. Each of these entities has its own focus, unique missions and responsibilities, varied resources and capabilities, and operating principles and procedures. Provisions of the standard cover the development, implementation, assessment, and maintenance of programs for prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, continuity, and recovery.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning, NFPA, 2015.

The NFPA 1620 standard provides criteria for developing pre-incident plans to help responders effectively manage emergencies so as to maximize protection for occupants, responding personnel, property, and the environment. It is a comprehensive guide covering the pre-incident planning process, physical and site considerations, occupant considerations, water supplies and fire protection systems, special hazards, emergency operations, and pre-incident plan testing and maintenance. Annexes contain case histories and information addressing special or unique characteristics of specific occupancy classifications, as well as sample forms for pre-incident planning.

Evacuation & Shelter-in-Place

Emergency evacuations are more common than many people realize, including evacuations in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the most frequent causes of evacuations in the U.S. each year are fires and floods. In addition, a wide variety of emergencies, both man-made and natural, may require a workplace to be evacuated. These emergencies may include explosions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, hazardous/toxic material releases, radiological and biological accidents, civil disturbances and workplace violence.

Emergency Evacuation is the immediate and urgent movement of people away from a threat or actual occurrence of a hazard.


This web page provides workers and employers guidance on planning for safe evacuations and shelter-in-place procedures during emergencies that may affect their workplace.

Deciding whether to shelter-in-place or evacuate to safety (i.e., get away from a threat or hazard) is among the most important decisions that must be made during an emergency. Employers should understand and plan for both scenarios. In any emergency, the local authorities may or may not be able to provide information immediately to assess the situation. Employers should consider how the situation might impact workers sheltering-in-place at a job site versus workers attempting to evacuate to safety.

If local authorities or the on-scene coordinator (e.g., incident commander or other official in charge) specifically give instructions to evacuate or seek medical treatment, do so immediately. In very hazardous situations, local officials may require mandatory evacuations. During other times, local officials may advise, or workers and employers may decide, to evacuate to avoid situations they believe are potentially dangerous.

Watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet often for information or official instructions as it becomes available. Additionally, specific instructions and guidance from local officials may also be provided through mass media, sirens or other public address/alert systems, text alerts, emails, or telephone calls.

Develop a Plan Ahead of Time

Many disasters are no-notice events, meaning that there is no warning before they occur. These types of events do not allow time for people to gather even the most basic necessities. Therefore, pre-planning is critical.

Workers may need to be trained to respond differently to different threats. For example, workers may be required to assemble in one area inside the workplace if threatened by a tornado or on an adjacent highway if threatened by a chemical spill. Moreover, a fire may require workers to evacuate to a pre-determined exterior location.

Emergency evacuation plans are developed to ensure the safest and most efficient evacuation. The evacuation plan must identify when and how workers are to respond to different types of emergencies. When developing the plan, it is important to ask questions and plan for worst-case scenarios. What would happen if the worksite caught fire, the nearby river flooded, or a chemical release occurred in the facility?

When developing an emergency action plan, it is important to determine:

  • Conditions under which an evacuation would be necessary
  • Conditions under which it may be better to shelter-in-place
  • A clear chain of command and designation of the person in the workplace authorized to order an evacuation or shutdown
  • Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits
  • Specific evacuation procedures for workers in buildings (including high-rise buildings)
  • Specific evacuation procedures and responsibilities for employers in buildings (including high-rise buildings)
  • Specific evacuation procedures on construction sites or non-fixed facilities
  • Procedures for assisting visitors and workers to evacuate
  • Designation of which, if any, workers will remain after the evacuation alarm to shut down critical operations or perform other duties before evacuating
  • A means of accounting for workers after an evacuation
  • Special equipment for workers, such as appropriate respiratory protection
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Procedures that address special needs workers, such as those that may have physical limitations
  • Any special actions for evacuation during an active shooter or other dangerous intruder situation

An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is a written document required by some OSHA standards (including 29 CFR 1910.38(a) and 29 CFR 1926.35) to help facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies. See OSHA's Emergency Action Plan Checklist for more assistance in developing an EAP.

When to Evacuate

The emergency evacuation plan should identify the different types of situations that will require an evacuation of the workplace. As mentioned before, these may include explosions; earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters; releases of chemical, radioactive, or biological agents; and civil disturbances and workplace violence. The extent of evacuation may be different for different types of hazards.

The type of building employees work in may be a factor in the decision to evacuate during an emergency. Most buildings are vulnerable to the effects of disasters, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or explosions. The extent of the damage depends on the type of emergency and the building's construction. Modern factories and office buildings, for example, are framed in steel and may be more structurally sound than older structures. In a major disaster, however, nearly every type of structure will be affected. Some buildings will collapse and others will be left with weakened floors, walls, and roofs.

Evacuations during an Active Shooter or other Dangerous Intruder Situation

Active shooter and other dangerous intruder situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation. Evacuation may be one option during an active shooter situation. This web page also describes sheltering in place during an active shooter situation in the "Shelter-in-Place" section below.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides the following guidance for evacuation during an active shooter situation:

If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. Be sure to:

  • Have an escape route and plan in mind
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow
  • Leave your belongings behind
  • Help others escape, if possible
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be
  • Keep your hands visible
  • Follow the instructions of any police officers
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people
  • Call 911 when you are safe

For more information, visit DHS's website for Active Shooter Preparedness.

Clear Chain of Command

It is common practice to select a responsible individual, with appropriate training or certifications, to lead and coordinate the workplace emergency plan and evacuation. It is critical that the employer ensures that the workers know the identity of the coordinator, as well as understand that the coordinator has the responsibility for making life saving decisions during an emergency. The coordinator should be responsible for assessing the situation to determine whether an emergency exists, activating the emergency procedures, overseeing emergency procedures, notifying and coordinating with outside emergency services, and directing the shutdown of utilities or plant operations, if necessary.

Routes and Exits

Most employers create floor diagrams with arrows that designate all exit route(s). These diagrams should include locations of exits, assembly points, and equipment (such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and spill kits) that may be needed in an emergency.

Exit routes must be:

  • Clearly marked and well lit
  • Wide enough to accommodate the number of evacuating personnel
  • Unobstructed at all times
  • Unlikely to expose evacuating personnel to additional hazards
  • Designed to avoid potentially hazardous areas or operations

For more information on exit routes, required heights and widths for ceilings and exit routes, and door access and hinges, see Design and Construction Requirements for Exit Routes.

evacuation map
Example Evacuation Floor Diagram

When preparing drawings that show evacuation routes and exits, employers should post them prominently for all workers to see. See OSHA's floor plan diagram example and OSHA's interactive floor plan demonstration for more information.

The Maintenance, Safeguards, and Operational Features for Exit Routes section of OSHA's Evacuation eTool provides additional information about exit route safety.

What should Employers Do Before and During an Emergency Evacuation?

When there is an emergency, getting workers out of buildings (including high-rise buildings) may pose challenges. Preparing in advance to safely evacuate the building is critical to the safety of workers who work there.

For Employers

Before an emergency occurs:

  • Employers must ensure doors are not locked from the inside and ensure that doorways, hallways, and stairways remain unobstructed or unblocked at all times (see 29 CFR 1910.36(d) and 29 CFR 1910.37(a)).
  • Regularly test all back-up systems and safety systems, such as emergency lighting and communication systems, and repair them as needed.
  • Develop a workplace evacuation plan, post it prominently on each floor, and review it periodically to ensure its effectiveness.
  • Identify and train floor wardens, including back-up personnel, who will be responsible for sounding alarms and helping to evacuate workers.
  • Conduct emergency evacuation drills periodically.
  • Establish designated meeting locations outside the building for workers to gather following an evacuation. The locations should be a safe distance from the building and in an area where people can assemble safely without interfering with emergency response teams.
  • Identify personnel with special needs or disabilities who may need help evacuating and assign one or more people, including back-up personnel, to help them during an emergency.
  • Ensure that during off-hour periods, systems are in place to notify, evacuate, and account for off-hour building occupants.
  • Post emergency numbers on or near telephones.

Some businesses may be required to establish Emergency Action Plans meeting certain requirements (see 29 CFR 1910.38 and OSHA's compliance policy for emergency action plans and fire prevention plans, CPL 2-1.037, for more information).

When an emergency occurs:

  • Sound appropriate alarms and instruct workers to leave the building.
  • Notify police, firefighters, building security, and other appropriate emergency personnel.
  • Ensure a person is designated to account for workers at pre-determined meeting locations, and promptly notify emergency response personnel of any workers that are absent.
  • Report to arriving responders the incident location, conditions, and the status of occupants (including any missing workers).
  • Ensure that routes for emergency vehicles and paths for emergency responder access are clear.
  • Inform arriving emergency responders of the incident location and conditions.
  • Have knowledgeable workers available to advise emergency responders.

What should Workers Know Before and Do During an Emergency Evacuation?

For Workers

What should workers know before an emergency occurs?

  • Be familiar with the worksite's emergency evacuation plan.
  • Know the pathway to at least two exits from every room/area at the workplace.
  • Recognize the sound/signaling method of the evacuation or other alarms and their different meanings.
  • Understand who to contact in an emergency, as well as the specific procedures they will be expected to use.
  • Know how many desks or cubicles are between their workstations and two of the nearest exits to escape in the dark, if necessary.
  • Know where the fire/evacuation alarms are located and how to use them.
  • Report damaged or malfunctioning safety systems and back-up systems.
  • Report changes in health that may affect their ability to safely evacuate, to their supervisor.

What should workers do when an emergency occurs?

  • Listen carefully for instructions over the building's internal communication system and follow the instructions.
  • When instructed, leave the area quickly, but in an orderly manner, following the work site's emergency evacuation plan.
  • Do not use elevators when evacuating a burning building, unless they are properly designed and designated "occupant evacuation elevators."
  • Report to the designated meeting place, and ensure they make contact with the person charged with worker accountability.
  • Do not re-enter the building until directed to do so by authorities.

What should workers do if trapped?

  • Stay calm and take steps to protect yourself.
  • Go to a room with an outside window.
  • Use a telephone/cell phone to call for help if possible.
  • Stay where rescuers can see you and wave a light-colored cloth to attract attention.
  • Specifically, during fire events:
    • Go directly to the nearest fire- and smoke-free stairwell, recognizing that in some circumstances the only available exit route may contain smoke or fire.
    • Crawl low, under the smoke, to breathe cleaner air. Test doors for heat before opening them by placing the back of your hand against the door so you do not burn your palm and fingers. Do not open a hot door. Find another exit route. Keep "fire doors" closed to slow the spread of smoke and fire.
    • Stuff wet clothing, towels, or newspapers around the cracks in doors to prevent smoke from entering your room.
    • Do not open or break windows unless absolutely necessary. Doing so could draw heat or smoke towards you.

This section covers only some of the basic considerations for safe evacuation. High-rise buildings may have unique characteristics involving location, design, construction, and occupancy to be taken into consideration. This information is not a substitute for a site-specific evacuation program nor does it detail specific OSHA or OSHA-approved State Plan standards that may be applicable to individual work sites.

OSHA's "Evacuating High-Rise Buildings" Fact Sheet provides all of these tips in a downloadable format.

Employers should also be familiar with the consensus standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other standards-setting organizations such as the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These organizations provide additional recommendations and requirements on evacuations and emergency planning. Furthermore, there may be additional state and local fire and building codes that employers must follow. Visit their websites for more information.

Evacuation Procedures on Construction Sites or Non-Fixed Facilities

Typical construction site locations and the workers on such job sites are constantly changing, which in turn poses unique challenges during emergency evacuations. In this section, there are some specific emergency evacuation procedures for construction sites. An evacuation plan should meet the requirements of OSHA's Employee Emergency Action Plans standard (29 CFR 1926.35).

Construction employers subject to 29 CFR 1926.35 (including at multi-employer worksites) are required to establish a plan for the types of evacuation to be used in an emergency. Every attempt should be made to ensure that all exposed employees are safely evacuated in the event of an emergency. Employers subject to 29 CFR 1926.35 must designate and train personnel to assist in the safe and orderly emergency evacuation of employees.

All employers should ensure:

  • All workers on the site are trained and aware of evacuation alarms, evacuation routes, and emergency assembly areas
  • Personnel are designated who will sound the evacuation alarms
  • The primary routes needed for egress and for responding emergency vehicles are not blocked
  • Personnel are designated who will be responsible for making sure the job site /structure is cleared of all workers
  • A head count is taken at the assembly areas to account for all workers
  • Personnel are designated to notify emergency services/facilities during any emergency activity that warrants an evacuation
  • Workers do not re-enter the job site/structure without clear indication that the area/facility is safe for re-entry
  • Workers do not leave the job site (emergency assembly area) unless advised to do so by a designated foreman/supervisor
  • Designated personnel are certified or trained in rescue and medical duties to promptly respond to identified emergencies

Effective method(s) of alerting and communicating with workers is a critical element on construction sites. These communication methods must be understood by all workers. It is recommended that employers train and drill workers (including contractors) and volunteers on these emergency communication methods and procedures to reduce injuries and fatalities, thereby saving lives on the job site.

Types of Alarm Systems that may be used on a construction site include:

  • Verbal Communication
  • Vehicle Horn
  • Air Horns
  • Cell Phone
  • Radio
  • Hand Signal

An emergency action plan on a construction site must be developed but may also require modification as conditions at the worksite change. All workers should be adequately trained on the importance of effective communication during emergencies, including those involving worksite evacuations. Training should be provided when the workers are initially assigned to the site and whenever there is a change on the site, which would affect the plan.

Assisting Visitors and Workers to Evacuate

Many employers designate individuals as evacuation wardens to help move workers from danger to safe areas during an emergency. Generally, one warden for every 20 workers should be adequate, and the appropriate number of wardens should be available at all times during working hours.

photograph of man quickly walking down stairs or an escalator

Wardens may be responsible for checking offices, bathrooms, and other spaces before being the last person to exit an area. They might also be tasked with ensuring that fire doors are closed when exiting. All workers designated to assist in emergency evacuation procedures should be trained in the complete workplace layout and various alternative escape routes if the primary evacuation route becomes blocked.

Workers designated to assist in emergencies should be made aware of workers with special needs (who may require extra assistance during an evacuation), how to use and instruct others to use the buddy system, and any hazardous areas to avoid during an emergency evacuation. Special tools such as evacuation chairs are available and may be used to assist workers with special needs.

Visitors also should be accounted for following an evacuation and may need additional assistance when exiting. Some employers require all visitors and contractors to sign in when entering the workplace; employers then use this list when accounting for all persons in the assembly area. The hosts and/or area wardens, if established, are often tasked with helping visitors safely evacuate.

OSHA recommends that employers coordinate their action plan with other employers that share the same worksite.

Workers Who May Remain at the Worksite Before Evacuating

Some businesses may require designated workers to remain behind briefly to operate fire extinguishers or shut down gas, electrical, and other systems or special equipment that could be damaged or create additional hazards to emergency responders (such as releasing hazardous materials) if left operating. Employers may be required to comply with OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard (29 CFR 1910.120) when workers are expected to perform shut down processes.

Each employer must review its business operations and processes and determine whether total and immediate evacuation is possible for various types of emergencies, or whether shutdown procedures are necessary. The preferred approach, and the one most often taken by small businesses, is immediate evacuation of all workers when the decision is made to evacuate. Larger industrial operations may have special fire brigades or emergency response units trained to undertake shutdown and other emergency procedures when other workers need to evacuate.

All workers remaining behind must be capable of recognizing when to abandon the operation or task and evacuate before the egress (exit) path is blocked. In small establishments, it is common to include in the plan locations where utilities (such as electrical and gas) can be shut down for all or part of the facility, by either workers or emergency response personnel.

Accounting for Workers after an Evacuation

To ensure the fastest, most accurate accountability of all workers, consider including these steps in the workplace emergency evacuation plan:

  • Designate assembly areas both inside and outside the workplace. Assembly locations within the building are often referred to as "areas of refuge." Make sure that each assembly area has sufficient space to accommodate all workers reporting to it. Exterior assembly areas, used when the building must be partially or completely evacuated, are typically located in parking lots or other open areas away from busy streets. Try to designate assembly areas up-wind of the building from the most common (i.e., prevailing) wind direction. When designating an assembly area, consider (and try to minimize) the possibility of workers interfering with emergency response operations. The most effective method to evaluate potential area(s) of refuge is to conduct a pre-evacuation drill.
  • Take a head count after the evacuation. Identify the names and last known locations of anyone not accounted for and pass them to the official in charge or to emergency responders. Accounting for all workers following an evacuation is critical. Confusion in the assembly areas can lead to delays in rescuing anyone trapped in the building, or unnecessary and dangerous search-and-rescue operations.
  • Establish a method for accounting for non-workers, such as suppliers, clients, outside contractors, customers, and other visitors to the work site.
  • Establish procedures for further evacuation in case the incident expands. This may consist of sending workers home by normal means or providing them with transportation to an off-site location.

Personal Protective Equipment during Evacuations

Workers may need PPE in order to protect themselves from hazards during an emergency evacuation. PPE must be based on the potential hazards in the workplace. Assess the workplace to determine potential hazards and identify the appropriate controls, including PPE, for those hazards. PPE may include items such as:

  • Safety glasses, goggles, or face shields for eye protection
  • Hard hats and safety shoes for head and foot protection
  • Proper respirators*
  • Chemical suits, gloves, hoods, and boots for body protection from chemicals
  • Special body protection (e.g., fire-retardant clothing) for abnormal environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures
  • Any other special equipment or warning devices necessary for hazards associated with the worksite

*Respirators selected must be appropriate to the hazards in the workplace, meet OSHA standards' criteria, and be certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (29 CFR 1910.134(d)).

OSHA's Safety and Health Topic page on Personal Protective Equipment provides information on PPE for various hazards across a range of industries and links to relevant OSHA standards and more specific Safety and Health Topic web pages.


Chemical, biological, or radiological contaminants may be released into the environment in such quantity and/or proximity to a place of business that it is safer to remain indoors rather than to evacuate workers. Such releases may be either accidental or intentional.

Examples of situations that might result in a decision to institute shelter-in-place include an explosion in a nearby ammonia refrigeration facility or a derailed and leaking tank car of chlorine. In many cases, local authorities will issue advice to shelter-in-place via TV or radio.

When planning to shelter-in-place as part of an emergency plan, keep the following in mind:

Shelter-in-Place means selecting an interior room(s) within a facility, potentially with no or few windows, and taking refuge there.


  • Implement a means of alerting workers to shelter-in-place that is easily distinguishable from that used to signal an evacuation.
  • Train workers in the shelter-in-place procedures and their roles in implementing them.

Shelter-in-Place Procedures

Specific procedures for shelter-in-place at a worksite may include the following:

  • Close the business.
  • When authorities provide direction to shelter-in-place, everyone should do so immediately. Do not drive or walk outdoors.
  • If there are clients, customers, or visitors in the building, provide for their safety by asking them to stay, not leave.
  • Unless there is an imminent threat, ask workers, clients, customers, and visitors to call their emergency contact to let them know where they are and that they are safe.
  • Turn on call-forwarding or alternative telephone answering systems or services. If the business has voice mail or an automated attendant, change the recording to indicate that the business is currently closed, and that staff and visitors are remaining in the building until authorities advise that it is safe to leave.
  • Close exterior doors and close windows, air vents, and fireplace dampers. Workers familiar with the building's mechanical systems should turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems, and clothes dryers. Some systems automatically provide for exchange of inside air with outside air. These systems, in particular, need to be turned off, sealed, or disabled.
  • If sheltering in place due to an external threat, such as a dangerous intruder or active shooter situation, consider locking exterior doors. Ensure that locking mechanisms allow workers to exit the work site if necessary.
  • If there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains.
  • Ensure workers are positioned away from exterior windows, and seek shelter in areas that offer adequate protection.
  • Gather essential disaster supplies, such as nonperishable food, bottled water, battery-powered radios, first-aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, duct tape, plastic sheeting, plastic garbage bags, medications, and other personal items.
  • Select an interior room(s) above the ground floor (selecting a room above ground floor does not apply to tornadoes or hurricanes), with the fewest windows or vents. The room(s) should have adequate space for everyone to be able to sit. Avoid overcrowding by selecting several rooms if necessary. Large storage closets, utility rooms, pantries, copy rooms and conference rooms without exterior windows are ideal. Avoid selecting a room with mechanical equipment like ventilation blowers or pipes, because this equipment may not be able to be sealed from the outdoors.
  • It is ideal to have a hard-wired telephone in the room(s) selected. Call emergency contacts and have the phone available if there is a need to report a life-threatening condition. Cellular telephone equipment may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency.
  • Take emergency supplies and go into the designated room. Seal all windows, doors, and vents with plastic sheeting and duct tape or anything else on hand.
  • Consider pre-cutting plastic sheeting (heavier than food wrap) to seal windows, doors, and air vents. Each piece should be several inches larger than the space to be covered so that it lies flat against the surrounding surface (e.g., wall, ceiling). Label each piece with the location of where it fits.
  • Write down the names of everyone in the room, and call designated emergency contacts to report who is in the room and their affiliation (employee, visitor, client, customer).
  • Listen to the radio, watch television, or use the Internet for further instructions until it is safe or until instructed to evacuate. Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in the community.

Employers should also be familiar with the consensus standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other standards-setting organizations such as the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These organizations provide additional recommendations and requirements on shelter-in-place and emergency planning. Furthermore, there may be additional state and local fire and building codes that you must follow. Visit their websites for more information.

Additional Information and Resources:

  • Evacuation Guidelines for Families. Ready.gov, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  • Basic Guidelines and steps to help individuals to plan for emergencies, including steps for evacuation. American Red Cross (ARC).
  • Safety Checklist Programs for Schools. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Online resources with ready-to-fill templates for designing an emergency action plan for a facility which covers: Emergency Personnel, Evacuation Routes, Emergency Phone numbers, Utility Company Emergency Contacts, Emergency Reporting and Evacuation Procedures for Medical, and Fire emergencies, Extended Power Loss, Chemical Spill, Structure Climbing/Descending emergencies, Bomb-Threat Checklist, Severe Weather and Natural Disaster emergencies. (Developed by Lewis Payton, Auburn University, AL; used with permission.)
  • Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Developed with input from the disability community to provide general information on evacuation planning for people with disabilities. In addition to providing information on the five general categories of disabilities (mobility impairments, visual impairments, hearing impairments, speech impairments, and cognitive impairments), the Guide outlines the four elements of evacuation information that occupants need: notification, way finding, use of the way, and assistance. Also included is a Personal Emergency Evacuation Planning Checklist that building services managers and people with disabilities can use to design a personalized evacuation plan. The annexes give government resources and text based on the relevant code requirements and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) criteria.
  • Accessible Means of Egress. U.S. Access Board. This guide explains requirements in the ADA Standards and referenced sections of the International Building Code (IBC) and was developed in cooperation with the International Code Council.
  • Active Shooter - How to Respond. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Preparing for and managing an active shooter situation including guidelines for evacuation.
  • Design Guidance for Shelters and Safe Rooms (Publication 453). U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Covers a range of protective options, from low-cost expedient protection (what is commonly referred to as sheltering-in-place) to safe rooms ventilated and pressurized with air purified by ultra-high-efficiency filters. These safe rooms protect against toxic gases, vapors, and aerosols (finely divided solid or liquid particles).
  • Learn How to Shelter in Place. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This page provides additional information on ways to shelter-in-place.
  • Fact Sheet on Shelter-in-Place. American Red Cross (ARC).
  • Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP). Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Describes the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) as a unique partnership between FEMA and the U.S. Army, given FEMA's long-standing experience in preparing for and dealing with all types of emergencies and the U.S. Army's role as custodian of the U.S. chemical stockpile.
Assistance for Small Businesses

OSHA's On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. To locate the OSHA On-site Consultation Program nearest you, call 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA) or visit the small business web page.

OSHA State Plans

There are twenty-eight OSHA-approved State Plans, operating state-wide occupational safety and health programs. State Plans are required to have standard and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA's and may have different or more stringent requirements.

OSHA’s Role in Emergency Response

OSHA staff provided technical assistance to other federal, state, and local agencies during the response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012
OSHA staff provided technical assistance to other federal, state, and local agencies during the response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Response organizations (i.e., entities responding to an emergency) typically have ways to protect their workers from foreseeable emergencies. However, some emergencies or disasters overwhelm the safety and health capabilities of response organizations because of the severity of the hazards, the geographic area, and/or the number of workers needed for the response. When large-scale emergencies occur, OSHA can be a critical resource to help response and recovery organizations protect their workers

OSHA's primary authority comes from powers assigned to the Secretary of Labor in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 (Pub. L. 91-596). OSHA standards are codified in various parts of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The OSHA Law & Regulations page provides additional information about the OSH Act and OSHA standards.

While the OSH Act itself generally applies to private sector employers, it allows states to assume responsibility for occupational safety and health for private sector employers and workers, as well as state and local employers and workers in the state.

OSHA can be activated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to lead implementation of the National Response Framework (NRF) Worker Safety and Health Support Annex to protect the safety and health of response and recovery workers. Under this Annex, OSHA has the authority to provide technical assistance and support to local, state, federal, tribal, territorial, and insular area agencies.

OSHA and the cooperating agencies listed in the Worker Safety and Health Support Annex can assist such agencies with:

  • risk assessment and management
  • identification, assessment, and control of health and safety hazards
  • development and oversight of health and safety plans (HASPs)
  • worker exposure monitoring, sampling, and analysis
  • personal protective equipment (PPE) program development and implementation, including monitoring, selection, fit-testing (e.g., for respirators), and decontamination
  • incident-specific worker safety and health training
  • communication of safety and health information to workers and employers

Under the National Contingency Plan, OSHA, as the Department of Labor's representative on the National Response Team (NRT) and Regional Response Teams (RRT), provides technical assistance and support, resources, and coordination on preparedness, planning, response and recovery activities for emergencies involving hazardous substances, pollutants and contaminants, oil, and weapons of mass destruction in natural and technological disasters and other environmental incidents of national significance. Section 300.175 of the National Contingency Plan details OSHA's responsibilities under the plan.

quick card screen capture
OSHA Resource

The "Emergency Response: Protecting Worker Safety and Health Under the National Response Framework" QuickCard™ describes OSHA's activities during emergency response operations.

As disaster response efforts transition to recovery work, the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) provides context for how the whole community—including OSHA—works together to restore, redevelop and revitalize the health, social, economic, natural and environmental fabric of the community.

Under the authority of the OSH Act and the other planning frameworks in which it operates, described above, OSHA can provide coordination, technical assistance, and support from the National Office in Washington, DC, regional offices, and area offices across the nation. Additionally, OSHA has a Specialized Response Team (SRT) that maintains and rapidly deploys with special response equipment and incident management skills, and provides technical expertise in worker protection during incidents. Specific technical expertise and support capabilities of the SRT include: toxic chemicals (including chemical warfare agents), biological agents, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, collapsed structures, demolition, and other construction-type activities.


During disaster response and recovery operations, even when OSHA is operating in a technical assistance and support mode, OSHA standards remain in effect and OSHA retains its ability to enforce the OSHA standards under the OSH Act. Enforcement of OSHA standards follows the jurisdiction in place before the emergency, such as in states operating OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs called State Plans. There are 28 states and U.S. territories with OSHA State Plans. State Plans have and enforce their own occupational safety and health standards that are required to be at least as effective as OSHA's but may have different or additional requirements. OSHA's federal offices provide coordination, technical assistance, support services, and oversight in all 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

OSHA's On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. To locate the OSHA On-site Consultation Program nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (3742) or visit OSHA's small business web page.

Additionally, OSHA Compliance Assistance Specialists, located in OSHA area offices throughout the nation, can provide information to workers and employers about OSHA standards, educational programs on specific hazards or OSHA rights and responsibilities, and additional compliance assistance resources. Compliance Assistance Specialists also promote OSHA's training resources and the tools available on the OSHA web site.

PPE for Emergency Response and Recovery Workers

Note: This page discusses Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for emergency response and recovery workers, particularly those responding to natural disaster and chemical (including oil), biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) events. The page is not intended to address PPE for all emergency response situations, including certain operations specific to law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical personnel.

Introduction to PPE for Emergency Response Workers

Worker exposures to many types of hazards can be prevented or minimized by using engineering controls, administrative controls, and safe work practices. When controls are not feasible, or when such controls are insufficient to reduce worker exposures to certain hazards to or below safe levels (e.g., an OSHA permissible exposure limit [PEL] or other recognized limit), employers must ensure that their workers are provided at no cost and correctly use appropriate PPE. PPE is only one component of a comprehensive worker protection program, and, by itself, does not eliminate a hazard. For PPE to be effective, workers must properly put on, use, and take off appropriate equipment.

Employers of emergency response and recovery workers are responsible for ensuring that their workers have and properly use PPE when necessary. PPE can include respiratory protection, protective clothing, and protective barriers used to protect workers from exposure to chemical (including oil), biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials and other hazards. The selection of PPE is based on anticipated hazards and PPE selection may need to be modified as a result of monitoring and assessing actual working conditions. In planning for worker PPE needs, employers should consider the full range of a particular hazard a worker may experience (e.g., respirator cartridges suitable for both chemical and particulate exposures even if workers may only need protection from particulates most of the time).

Different types and levels of PPE may be used depending on the specific hazard or hazards present. PPE also may be needed to protect workers from other hazards, such as electric shock hazards or hazards associated with exposures to hazardous substances that may be encountered during emergency response and recovery operations.

The following are some of the important steps employers with emergency response and recovery workers need to take with respect to PPE:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment to determine what safety and health hazards workers may encounter;
  • Follow the hierarchy of controls—including elimination/substitution and engineering, work practice, and administrative controls—before relying on PPE to protect workers;
  • Determine what PPE workers need;
  • Provide the proper PPE to workers;
  • Train workers in the proper use of PPE, including how to put it on and take it off correctly, and how to clean, maintain and dispose of it after or between uses;
  • Ensure that PPE is used properly and whenever necessary;
  • Provide medical exams and/or fit testing, as required by OSHA standards, prior to using certain types of PPE (e.g., respirators); and
  • Regularly review and update the PPE program as hazards change.

It is crucial that employers plan in advance of an emergency for the PPE needs of their workers. During and immediately after an emergency, there may be limited supplies of PPE available for purchase, so it is important to have the necessary PPE on hand in advance. In an emergency situation, employers may have little or no time to train or fit workers (e.g., perform fit testing for respirators) for certain types of equipment, so it can be critical to have those tasks completed before an emergency occurs.

Selecting PPE for Emergency Response Workers

In selecting PPE for workers, employers should match the PPE to a worker's specific job tasks and working conditions. Select PPE based on a thorough hazard assessment at the worksite. Consider the durability of PPE materials, such as tear resistance and seam strength, in relation to the worker's tasks. Evaluate other aspects of PPE use, including its impact on heat stress, length of time a worker is able to wear a specific combination of equipment, the physical condition of the worker, demands of the specific work activity, and any effects on worker mobility or dexterity. In some cases, layers of PPE may be necessary to provide sufficient protection.

Combinations or ensembles of PPE are classified generally into four levels, ranging from the most protective (Level A) to the least protective (Level D). Each level of PPE, described in the table below and detailed in Appendix B of the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard (29 CFR 1910.120), consists of a combination of protective equipment and clothing that help reduce respiratory, eye, skin, and other types of exposures. The table includes a description of the respiratory protection devices associated with each PPE level. However, respiratory protection also is discussed in greater detail in the "Respiratory Protection" [anchor link to section below] section of this page.

Four Levels of PPE

Level Description and Details Equipment to be used as appropriate

Consists of a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) and a totally encapsulating chemical-protective (TECP) suit. Is to be selected when the greatest level of skin, respiratory, and eye protection is required. Practical limitations include limited air supply (20 – 50 minutes) and heat stress. If the HAZWOPER standard applies wearers must complete 40-hour HAZWOPER training at a minimum.

  • Positive pressure, full-facepiece SCBA, or positive pressure Supplied Air Respirator (SAR) with escape SCBA, approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  • Totally encapsulating chemical-protective suit.
  • Inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves.
  • Boots, chemical-resistant, toe and metatarsal impact protection (e.g., steel or composite).
  • Disposable protective suit, gloves and boots (depending on suit construction, may be worn over totally encapsulating suit).
  • Coveralls, long underwear, and/or hard hat (under suit), optionally, as applicable.

Consists of a positive-pressure respirator (SCBA or SAR) and non-encapsulated chemical-resistant garments, gloves, and boots, which guard against chemical splash exposures. Provides the highest level of respiratory protection with a lower level of dermal protection.

  • Positive pressure, full-facepiece SCBA, or positive pressure air purifying respirator (APR) with escape SCBA (NIOSH approved).
  • Hooded chemical-resistant clothing (overalls and long-sleeved jacket; coveralls; one or two-piece chemical-splash suit; disposable chemical-resistant overalls).
  • Inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves.
  • Boots, outer, chemical-resistant with impact resistance.
  • Boot-covers, outer, chemical-resistant (disposable).
  • Coveralls, chemical-resistant boot covers, face shield and/or hard hat (under suit), optionally, as applicable.

Consists of an air-purifying respirator (APR) and non-encapsulated chemical-resistant clothing, gloves, and boots. Provides the same level of skin protection as Level B, with a lower level of respiratory protection. Used when the type of airborne exposure is known to be guarded against adequately by an APR. Because of limitations of an APR, allowable only when oxygen levels are adequate (i.e., >19.5%), air contaminants are known, and a cartridge can be selected to provide protection from contaminants.

  • Full-face or half-mask, air purifying respirators (NIOSH approved).
  • Hooded chemical-resistant clothing (overalls; two-piece chemical-splash suit; disposable chemical-resistant overalls).
  • Inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves.
  • Eye protection is usually added if a half-face respirator is worn. Goggles or glasses, depending on the hazard encountered.
  • Coveralls, chemical-resistant outer boots, chemical-resistant disposable boot covers, escape mask, face shield and/or hard hat (under suit), optionally, as applicable.

Consists of standard work clothes without a respirator. For example, in hospitals, consists of surgical gown, mask, and latex gloves (universal precautions). Provides no respiratory protection and only minimal skin protection.

  • Coveralls.
  • Boots/shoes.
  • Eye protection is often added.
  • Gloves, chemical-resistant outer boots, safety glasses or chemical splash goggles, escape mask, face shield and/or hard hat, optionally, as applicable.

In addition to items listed in the table above, other types of PPE may be added, including but not limited to eye protection, hearing protection, fall and falling object protection, high visibility clothing, or U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices, depending on anticipated hazards and specific worker tasks. OSHA's Safety and Health Topic page on Personal Protective Equipment provides information on PPE for various hazards across a range of industries, and links to relevant OSHA standards and more specific Safety and Health Topics web pages. These pages may help employers and workers identify the types of PPE necessary to prevent and reduce exposure to specific chemical, biological, radiological, electrical, and physical hazards.

Employers should also be familiar with the consensus standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other standards-setting organizations, as these may provide additional recommendations about PPE selection and use.

During an emergency involving a release of a hazardous substance, emergency response workers conducting operations outside of the contaminated areas, but who are anticipated to have contact with contaminated victims, may require Level C or D PPE. PPE selection may depend on a worker's anticipated proximity to the contamination zone perimeter, as well as anticipated contact with other potential sources of contamination (e.g., victims, other workers, or materials and equipment coming from contaminated areas). These workers may include healthcare professionals in hospitals or clinics receiving and treating patients from the site of an emergency or the surrounding contaminated areas. The OSHA Best Practices for Hospital-Based First Receivers of Victims document provides guidance in this area. Appendix B of the HAZWOPER standard (29 CFR 1910.120) also provides information about PPE levels and compliance with PPE requirements during emergency response operations.

Whenever an emergency event involves environmental contamination, the incident commander or unified command staff should communicate to workers and employers the boundaries between contaminated and uncontaminated areas. Employers should be aware that movement of workers, equipment, and members of the public between contaminated and uncontaminated areas may result in low levels of contamination outside of established boundaries.

Additional resources for assistance with PPE selection include:

If workers provide their own protective equipment, employers must ensure that the equipment is adequate to protect the worker from hazards at the worksite and properly used at all times. Employers also must ensure that the equipment is properly maintained and decontaminated after/between use(s). Paragraph (h) of the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) and paragraphs (a) and (b) of the PPE standard (29 CFR 1910.132) outline this requirement.

Respiratory Protection

Operations that expose workers to harmful levels of particulates, chemical vapors, biological agents, and other airborne contaminants require implementation of a comprehensive respiratory protection program that meets the requirements of the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134). Respiratory protection may also be necessary if workers must pass through or may encounter toxic atmospheres (such as dust, mists, gases, or vapors) or oxygen-deficient areas, including while conducting rescue operations and during evacuations. Respiratory protection programs require fit testing and training for workers, medical evaluation and monitoring and selection of appropriate respirators (and cartridges, if required).

Several categories of respiratory protection devices (i.e., respirators) are available to protect workers from inhalation hazards. The table below describes some of these categories.

Respiratory Protection
Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)
  • Highest level of respiratory protection, with an assigned protection factor of 10,000 when used in a pressure-demand or other positive-pressure mode and as part of a continuing, effective respirator program as required by the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard.
  • Full-facepiece connected by a hose to a portable tank of compressed breathing air.
  • Open-circuit, positive-pressure SCBA is most common type.
  • Provides clean air under pressure from breathing-air cylinder.
  • Negative-pressure SCBAs are prohibited by OSHA regulations for HAZMAT incidents. Response workers using level A or B PPE with an SCBA should be provided with a positive-pressure SCBA.
Supplied-Air Respirator (SAR)
  • Facepiece connected to an air source away from the contaminated area via an airline.
  • Have greater breathing air capacities than SCBAs, so they can be used for longer periods.
  • Although negative-pressure SARs are available, full-facepiece, positive pressure SARs are recommended for HAZMAT incidents. These have an assigned protection factor of 1,000.
  • Drawbacks of SARs include the necessity of checklists to ensure the purity of supplied air and the use hoses that deliver the breathing air. Hoses must be protected from contamination, constriction and physical damage, and are limited to a distance of 300 feet.
Air-Purifying Respirator (APR)
  • Facepiece worn over the face (full facepiece), or mouth and nose (half facepiece), with a cartridge or filter that removes specified contaminants from ambient air before inhalation.
  • Do NOT protect against all air contaminants.
  • Must NOT be used where oxygen levels are inadequate.
  • Full-facepiece APRs offer more protection (factor of 50) than half face-piece APRs (factor of 10).
  • A powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) is a type of air-purifying respirator that uses a blower to force the ambient air through air-purifying elements to the inlet covering. PAPRs have a higher assigned protection factor than half face-piece APRs: loose-fitting PAPR, APF 25; and hooded PAPR, APF 50.

Use respiratory protection specifically approved by NIOSH for CBRN exposures during such events, if possible. If NIOSH-approved CBRN-specific respirators are not available, the incident commander may allow alternative NIOSH-approved respirators. The table of assigned protection factors (Table 1) of the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) may help employers select appropriate respirators for particular operations.

Specifically for CBRN events, there is additional guidance on respiratory requirements in OSHA's Safety and Health Information Bulletin on CBRN Escape Respirators (SHIB 03-08-29 (A). Also, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a fact sheet to help respiratory protection program administrators, safety officers, managers, and APR wearers understand the special features of a NIOSH-approved CBRN APR: What's special about Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) air-purifying respirators (APR)?

OSHA's Respiratory Protection eTool and Respiratory Protection Safety and Health Topics web page provide additional information about selection and use of various types of air-purifying respirators and other respiratory protection equipment. Several OSHA training videos cover fit testing, maintenance and care, and other important aspects of respiratory protection program management.

Note that surgical masks are not designed or approved for protection against particulates or chemical vapors. In some situations, such as during outbreaks of communicable diseases, surgical masks may help to reduce transmission to other people when worn by infected individuals.

PPE Requirements in OSHA Standards

Emergency responses to hazardous substance releases are covered under OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard (29 CFR 1910.120). Recommended PPE in the OSHA/NIOSH PPE Selection Matrix for Emergency Responders is selected to meet the requirements of this standard and Subpart I (Personal Protective Equipment). In order to use the guidance effectively, an employer must assess the risk of a hazardous substance release to the emergency response workers and base PPE selection on that risk.

State Standards

There are 28 OSHA-approved State Plans, operating state-wide occupational safety and health programs. State Plans are required to have standard and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA's and may have different or more stringent requirements.

Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." This section may be used to address hazards for which there are no specific standards (e.g., exposure to certain biological or chemical agents).

Paragraph 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions. OSHA encourages workers who suffer such discrimination to submit a complaint to OSHA. Such complaints must be filed within 30 days.

Depending on the specific work task, setting, and exposure to various hazards, additional OSHA standards may also apply. The list below includes general industry standards that commonly apply to emergency response and recovery operations. However, employers in the construction (29 CFR 1926); shipyard, maritime, and longshoring (29 CFR 1915, 1917, and 1918); and agriculture (29 CFR 1928) industries should be familiar with the OSHA standards that cover their workers, including those for HAZWOPER, PPE, and respiratory protection. In particular, standards for the construction industry are likely to apply during demolition, rebuilding, and other aspects of recovery following a disaster or other emergency event.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Worker Protection during High-Hazard Emergency Operations

Certain emergency operations may require balancing worker protection with the need to conduct critical missions, such as those necessary for life-saving or critical infrastructure protection. In these instances, an employer should work with the incident commander, unified command staff, and other health and safety personnel to limit worker exposures to all hazards through a combination of engineering and administrative controls and safe work practices, supplemented by PPE.

Emergency response organizations should coordinate with employers in their jurisdictions to ensure they are prepared to respond to and safely perform rescue operations as needed at worksites that may pose unique or particularly hazardous conditions for emergency responders. This may include preparing, training, and exercising capabilities for response and rescue operations at steep angles or heights, such as in pits, tanks, manholes, boilers, furnaces, silos, hoppers, vaults, pipes, ducts, and bins or on slopes, communication towers, or other tall structures, including those under construction; in confined spaces, trenches, or underground; and over, near, or in water of various depths. Such operations may require special engineering and administrative controls, work practices, and PPE to protect emergency response and recovery workers. Employers may need to select and provide workers with, for example, special safety harnesses, ropes or cables, and respirators and cartridges appropriate for the hazards they may encounter. As always, PPE should be used as the final level of protection in the hierarchy of engineering (e.g., ventilating equipment, barriers, shields) and administrative controls and safer work practices.