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How would you escape from your workplace in an emergency? Do you know where all the exits are in case your first choice is too crowded? Are you sure the doors will be unlocked and the exit access, such as a hallway, will not be blocked during a fire, explosion or other crisis?

Knowing the answers to these questions could keep you safe during an emergency. And the answers should be readily available to all of your staff in your organization’s emergency action plan (EAP).

Almost every business is required under Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to have an EAP. The purpose these plans is to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies.

Well-developed emergency plans and proper employee training (that helps workers understand their roles and responsibilities when executing the plan) will result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less structural damage to the facility during emergencies.

A poorly prepared plan likely will lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury and property damage.

Putting together a comprehensive EAP that deals with issues specific to your worksite is not difficult. It involves taking what you learn from conducting a workplace evaluation and describing how employees will respond to different types of emergencies, taking into account your worksite layout, structural features and emergency systems.

If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally. For firms with more than 10 employees, the plan must be written, kept in the workplace and available for employee review.

Although employers are required to have an EAP only when the applicable OSHA standard requires it, OSHA strongly recommends that all employers have an EAP.

Important elements

A few of the important elements of an EAP include:

  • Procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies.
  • Procedures for emergency evacuation, including the type of evacuation and exit route assignments.
  • Procedures for employees who stay behind to continue critical plant operations.
  • Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation.
  • Names or titles of employees to contact for detailed plan information.
  • Alarm system to alert workers.

In addition, designate and train employees to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees.

Review the EAP with each employee covered when:

  • The plan is developed or an employee is assigned to a new job,
  • Employees’ responsibilities under the plan change, or
  • You change the EAP.