Emergency in the Workplace: Are You Ready?

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The best way to prevent serious injuries and fatalities to workers, customers, and the public is to be prepared for unforeseen situations before disaster strikes with an emergency action plan for the workplace. The most effective plan includes event reporting procedures, evacuation plans, and training about how to respond to different types of emergencies.

Preparing for Workplace Emergencies

Planning in advance for workplace emergencies can save lives and protect property. When a crisis happens it can be difficult for people to think clearly, so it’s essential to have an emergency action plan in place before an emergency occurs. An emergency action plan should cover designated actions for employee safety in workplace emergencies including fires; floods; hurricanes and tornadoes; chemical spills; toxic gas leaks; explosions; civil disturbances; and workplace violence.

All emergency action plans should include an established method for reporting emergencies, evacuation policies and procedures, and emergency escape routes including floor plans, workplace maps, and safe refuge areas. All employees should understand the basic elements of the emergency action plan including:

  • Types of workplace emergencies that may occur
  • Reporting procedures
  • Alarm systems
  • Evacuation procedures
  • Business shutdown procedures

Alarm systems are essential to alert employees and emergency responders to workplace emergencies. They must provide distinctive sounds that signal danger and prompt employees to take action. For the safety of disabled workers, tactile devices should be installed to alert employees who may not recognize an audible or visual alarm. To protect against workplace injuries, alarms must be heard or seen by everyone in the workplace. For added safety, an auxiliary power supply should be installed in case the workplace loses electricity.

If hazardous materials are used or stored in the workplace, employees should be informed about appropriate emergency responses for exposures or explosions caused by the substances. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard requires all employers who use or store hazardous materials to keep an inventory of individual substances on site, store materials in clearly labeled containers, train employees on proper safety procedures, and provide employees with personal protective equipment that meets OSHA safety standards.

OSHA advises posting the emergency action plan in a convenient location that’s visually accessible to all employees or giving every employee a copy. To help employers comply with regulatory requirements on workplace safety, OSHA area offices provide a variety of publications, educational seminars, training classes, and free on-site consultation services.