Is Your Facility Prepared for an Emergency? How to Set up an Evacuation Plan
Having an effective emergency evacuation plan in place will keep your workers safer and help reduce penalties, insurance premiums, and other costs.
Emergency situations and natural disasters can have a serious impact on your business, especially if you don't have a proper evacuation plan in place. An well thought out evacuation plan ensures that your employees and visitors to your site can quickly and safely get out of harm's way, reducing the number of injuries and other adverse outcomes.
In this article, we'll go over the key questions you should ask yourself when setting up an evacuation plan. While all emergencies are unplanned, following these steps will ensure that you won't be caught unprepared.
Planning Ahead for an Emergency
No one does their best thinking during stressful situations. In the event of an emergency, people are often unable to quickly work out the best course of action. Some may freeze, some may panic, and others still will rush into action and do something that might put them at greater risk or make the situation worse.
That's why it's critical to have an emergency plan in place. These plans are drafted when there is plenty of time for careful thinking and deliberation, and when everyone involved is cool and collected. This ensures that no one has to think on their feet during an emergency situation - they simply have to follow the plan.
An emergency plan must, at the very least, include the following:
- A preferred reporting method for fires and other emergencies
- An evacuation policy and procedure
- Emergency escape procedures and routes (floor plans, refuge areas, muster points, and so on)
- List of persons to contact for additional information or guidance
- Procedures to be followed by those responsible for shutting down critical plant operations, using fire extinguishers, or taking any other type of action before evacuating
- Procedures for rescue and medical operations
Three Basic Evacuation Planning Questions
Evacuation procedures are an important component of any emergency plan. A poorly planned evacuation can delay the time it takes for workers to get to safety, place them in the path of additional hazards, and cause confusion.
To improve the quality of your evacuation plan, start by asking yourself these three questions:
- Do employees know where to go?
- Are employees able to find their way there?
- Can employees administer first aid if needed?
Maybe these questions seem overly simplistic, but far too many companies don't properly address them in their emergency preparedness plans. Starting with these ensures that your company takes proactive steps toward having a facility that is prepared for anything.
Let's look at each of these in more detail.
Do Your Employees Know Where to Go?
The first step to an effective emergency plan is designating a safe, secure destination for evacuees: a muster point. Larger facilities might need multiple muster points to decrease the chances of crowding and reduce the distance between workers and their safe zone.
Ideal muster points are:
- Easily accessible
- Free of hazards
- Able to accommodate a sufficient number of people
- Clearly marked
All workers should be aware of your facility's muster points and which one is nearest to their workstation. As an employer, you can assist them by clearly marking your muster point’s location with proper, industry-approved signage.
(Learn more in Muster Points: How to Keep Your Team Safe During an Emergency)
Are Your Employees Able to Find Their Way There?
Wayfinding is essential to a workplace evacuation plan. Although most employees will be familiar with the layout of the facility, it's important to take proactive steps that will make it easier for them to safely and quickly find their way to the nearest muster point.
That begins with ensuring that all exit routes are compliant with OSHA Standard 1910.37, which requires exit routes to be:
- Free of explosive or highly flammable furnishings
- Directed away from hazards
- Unobstructed by equipment, locked doors, and dead-ends
- Equipped with directional indicators
- Adequately lit
- Placed far apart so that if one route is blocked, another can be used
- Doorways or passages (such as closets) along the exit route must be marked “Not an Exit”
- The exit access must be at least 28 inches wide at all points
Providing key visual cues to guide workers during an evacuation is also recommended.
Customized maps, glow-in-the-dark holders, and high-visibility information centers can make it easier for employees to navigate their way through the facility during a stressful evacuation. Directional tape and floor markings are a great way to account for low visibility situations like crowding, power outages, or smoke accumulation. High-visibility tapes and barricades can also be used to delineate hazards like chemical spills or structural damage.
Directional signs should be posted no higher than knee-height to ensure they remain visible in the event of a fire. Exit signs, however, can be mounted higher - usually at 60 inches or above to maximize visibility.
Can Your Employees Administer First Aid?
Unfortunately, merely evacuating the facility isn't always sufficient. In some cases, it is important to provide emergency medical treatment to some workers, either before helping them evacuate from the facility or once they reach the muster point.
While it is up to workers to actively manage a medical or first-aid situation, it is the employer's responsibility to provide the tools and training that allow them to do so effectively.
(See First Aid Kits: The Essential List to find out what to keep on hand)
OSHA requires that first-aid kits be readily available (no more than three to four minutes away) and adequate for small worksites of approximately two to three employees. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.151 requires trained first aid providers at workplaces of any size if there is no “infirmary, clinic, or hospital in near proximity to the workplace which is used for the treatment of all injured employees.” Where necessary, emergency eyewash and shower stations must also be present for immediate use.
Medical equipment must be easy to find during an emergency. This can be accomplished with the use of highly visible signage and labeling.
Key Elements of an Emergency Evacuation Plan
An emergency evacuation plan must include the following elements:
- A clear chain of command
- An emergency alert system
- A primary communication method
- Specific evacuation procedures for every area
- Exit routes, including floor plans
- Locations of safe areas and muster points