Muster points are critical for emergency planning. Getting your people out of the building safely in the event of a fire or other emergency can be a logistical nightmare, so it is important that every employee knows where their particular muster point is and why it was chosen. In this article, we'll look at what to consider when setting muster points for your work environment.
Muster Point Basics
A muster point should be well-known and clearly marked with a sign stating "Muster Point" or with sign with a symbolic depiction. One common symbolic sign depicts four arrows pointing inward to a central dot. Evacuation maps in the company building or workstation should indicate the muster point as well as the evacuation route.
Larger buildings may have multiple muster points. Typically, each is either divided by floor, department, or organization to prevent stampeding and congestion during an evacuation. Each muster point should have a safety officer or safety chief responsible for managing the affairs of the muster point during an emergency until the situation is all clear. (For more on evacuation planning, see Is Your Facility Prepared for an Emergency? How to Set up an Evacuation Plan.)
The Why of Muster Points
The idea of having a muster point in the first place is to provide a spot for making sure everyone is accounted for during an emergency. Rather than having people run off in random directions, a strategic meeting place allows the safety officer to quickly do a roll-call or take attendance by using a list of all the people in the building, which is included in the emergency plan.
By quickly rolling through the list, the safety officer can notify emergency crews about missing persons as well as get details about the locations and possibilities of any hazards of those people in a much more efficient manner. Some offices and workplaces use a buddy system to account for missing people, since it can be easy to miss someone in a large workplace. That way, if someone is sick or at a business meeting, their buddy will be able to alert the safety officer without creating a false alarm.
How to Choose a Muster Point
There are many things to consider when choosing a muster point. First, it should be an easily accessible location close to the building that is not impeded by other hazards. Having a muster point on the other side of a busy highway, for example, can cause increased hazards for people during an evacuation or an emergency. (For related reading, see Managing Pedestrians at Work.)
The muster point must also be large enough to accommodate the number of people assigned to that point, so as not to overcrowd or constrict movement should a blowout or secondary emergency occur. For example, some places use a large, open parking lot as a muster point.
The muster point should also be far enough away from any other immediate dangers, so that no one is put into additional danger during an emergency. This could include areas near streams, trees, fences, or other obstacles. This, of course, has to be balanced against the ease of getting there. One of the more recent challenges with muster points is finding the right mix where older or mobility challenged workers can get there in a short time while still being at a safe distance. As with any safety concern, using common sense goes a long way.
When choosing a specific muster point, picture your own office or workplace. Where are the potential hazards? Would you want to have a meeting place beside these potentially hazardous locations? Think of the safest locations you can - those that are free from hazard, have good lighting, and don't have a lot of loud noises that would impede communication - and make your evacuation plans accordingly. Getting feedback and considering your crew's suggestions and concerns is also an important step to finding the ideal location.
Review Your Muster Points Regularly
Given that the terrain and neighborhoods we work in constantly change, it's important to review existing muster points to ensure that new hazards have not developed, such as electrical interference, roadways, or reduced space. Doing this on an annual basis, or as part of safety review whenever there is a significant change, will ensure emergency preparedness. To stay ahead of the game, try an emergency drill to see how well your muster points work. (For more, check out Safety Review: What It Is and Why We Need It.)
You also need to ensure everyone in the building knows the muster point. Muster points should be part of every new employee's safety orientation as well as part of the regular safety training employees get throughout the year. As with any safety information, saying it once and then never reinforcing is nearly as bad as having no safety program at all.
Muster points are a relatively simple concepts. You want to get everyone out to a safe area where they can be accounted for. There are a number of tweaks based on the type of work environment, the mobility of the workforce and the potential hazards in the neighborhood. Once you've found the right muster point, you need to ensure everyone knows where it is. Like fire extinguishers and AEDs, we always hope muster points aren't required, but we need to ensure they are there and well known when they are needed.