Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool
Drafting an emergency action plan (EAP) is not enough to ensure the safety of your employees. When an evacuation is necessary, you will need responsible, trained individuals who can supervise and coordinate activities to ensure a safe and successful evacuation. An EAP will be useful only if its content is up to date and employees are sufficiently educated and trained before an actual evacuation. The following sections will help you successfully develop and implement your plan:
- Development of an emergency action plan
- Employee training and plan review
- Plan review, coordination, and update
During development and implementation of your draft plan, think about all possible emergency situations and evaluate your workplace to see if it complies with OSHA's emergency standards.
A very simple plan will suffice in offices, small retail shops, and small manufacturing settings where there are few or no hazardous materials or processes, and employees evacuate when alarms sound or when notified by public address systems. More complex plans are required in workplaces containing hazardous materials or workplaces where employees fight fires, perform rescue and medical tasks, or delay evacuation after alarms sound to shut down critical equipment. These more complex situations are outside the scope of this eTool.
It is essential that the emergency action plan developed be site specific with respect to emergency conditions evaluated, evacuation policies and procedures, emergency reporting mechanisms, and alarm systems. To assist you in your planning, a checklist is provided that identifies issues that must be considered when drafting a comprehensive emergency action plan. An explanation of each issue and/or examples of how each issue might be addressed in typical workplaces is provided.
The best emergency action plans include employees in the planning process, specify what employees should do during an emergency, and ensure that employees receive proper training for emergencies. When you include your employees in your planning, encourage them to offer suggestions about potential hazards, worst-case scenarios, and proper emergency responses. After you develop the plan, review it with your employees to make sure everyone knows what to do before, during, and after an emergency. Keep a copy of your emergency action plan in a convenient location where employees can get to it, or provide a copy to all employees. If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally.
It is common practice to select a responsible individual to lead and coordinate your emergency plan and evacuation. It is critical that employees know who the coordinator is and understand that this person has the authority to make decisions during emergencies. The coordinator should be responsible for assessing the situation to determine whether an emergency exists requiring activation of the emergency procedures, overseeing emergency procedures, notifying and coordinating with outside emergency services, and directing shutdown of utilities or plant operations if necessary.
In other instances, local emergency officials, such as the local fire department, may order you to evacuate your premises. If you have access to radio or television, listen to newscasts to keep informed and follow whatever official orders you receive.
When emergency officials, such as the local fire department, respond to and emergency at your workplace, they will assume responsibility for the safety of building occupants and have the authority to make decisions regarding evacuation and whatever other actions are necessary to protect life and property. The highest-ranking responder will assume the incident command role and will work with the onsite emergency coordinator, but will be responsible for directing all response activities.
Before implementing the emergency action plan, the employer must designate and train enough people to assist in the safe and orderly emergency evacuation of employees. [29 CFR 1910.38(e)] Employers should review the plan with each employee when the initial plan is developed and when each employee is initially assigned to the job. [29 CFR 1910.38(f)(1)] Employers should review the plan with each employee when his/her actions or responsibilities under the plan change or when the plan changes. [29 CFR 1910.38(f)(2) and 29 CFR 1910.38(f)(3)] Effective plans often call for retraining employees annually and include drills in which employees can practice evacuating their workplace and gathering in the assembly area.
Educate your employees about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of your workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of onsite or outside resources will determine your training requirements. Be sure all employees understand the function and elements of your emergency action plan, including types of potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures. Discuss any special hazards you may have onsite such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances. An employer must inform employees of the fire hazards to which they are exposed and review with each employee those parts of the fire prevention plan necessary for self-protection. [29 CFR 1910.39(d)]
Clearly communicate to your employees who will be in charge during an emergency to minimize confusion.
General training for your employees should also address the following:
- Individual roles and responsibilities.
- Threats, hazards, and protective actions.
- Notification, warning, and communications procedures.
- Means for locating family members in an emergency.
- Emergency response procedures.
- Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures.
- Location and use of common emergency equipment.
- Emergency shutdown procedures.
And remember, if training is not reinforced it will be forgotten. Consider retraining employees annually.
You also may want to train your employees in first-aid procedures, including protection against bloodborne pathogens; respiratory protection, including use of an escape-only respirator; and methods for preventing unauthorized access to the site.
Once you have reviewed your emergency action plan with your employees and everyone has had the proper training, it is a good idea to hold practice drills as often as necessary to keep employees prepared. Include outside resources such as fire and police departments when possible. After each drill, gather management and employees to evaluate the effectiveness of the drill. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your plan and work to improve it.
Once you have completed your emergency action plan, review it carefully with your employees and post it in an area where all employees will have access to it.
The employer must review with each employee upon initial assignment those parts of the EAP and fire prevention plan (FPP) that the employee must know to protect him or herself in the event of an emergency. The written plans must be available to the employees and kept at the workplace. For employers with 10 or fewer employees, the plans may be communicated orally. [29 CFR 1910.38(b) and 29 CFR 1910.39(b)]
The plans should also be reviewed with other companies or employee groups in your building to ensure that your efforts will be coordinated with theirs, enhancing the effectiveness of your plan. In addition, if you rely on assistance from local emergency responders such as the fire department, local HAZMAT teams, or other outside responders, you may find it useful to review and coordinate your emergency plans with these organizations. This ensures that you are aware of the capabilities of these outside responders and that they know what you expect of them.
It is a good idea to hold practice evacuation drills. Evacuation drills permit employees to become familiar with the emergency procedures, their egress routes, and assembly locations, so that if an actual emergency should occur, they will respond properly. Drills should be conducted as often as necessary to keep employees prepared. Include outside resources, such as fire and police departments, when possible. After each drill, gather management and employees to evaluate the effectiveness of the drill. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your plan and work to improve it.
Operations and personnel change frequently, and an outdated plan will be of little use in an emergency. You should review the contents of your plan regularly and update it whenever an employee's emergency actions or responsibilities change, or when there is a change in the layout or design of the facility, new equipment, hazardous materials, or processes are introduced that affect evacuation routes, or new types of hazards are introduced that require special actions. The most common outdated item in plans is the facility and agency contact information. Consider placing this important information on a separate page in the front of the plan so that it can be readily updated.