A muster point is a safe gathering place where your employees and everyone else on your work site can safely assemble in case of an emergency evacuation.
Here are ten things you should know about selecting and managing the muster points in your workplace.
1. A Risk Assessment Is an Excellent Place to Start
Knowing how many muster points you need and where they should be located requires knowing what kinds of emergencies could occur on your premises and what kinds of risks your workers face. A risk assessment will also reveal any hazards your employees might encounter in the process of evacuating or near potential muster point locations.
2. Locate Your Muster Point in a Safe and Visible Area
Your muster point must be a safe distance from your building, accounting for the possibility of issues like fire or a bomb threat. Meeting in the lobby or right outside the front door is not an appropriate solution.
A minimum distance of 1.5 times the height of the building is often advised to ensure safety in situations where the walls might collapse. Do not locate your muster point in an area with overhead power lines, traffic, or hazardous terrain. At open fieldwork sites, depending on the type of work taking place, the risk of explosions or chemical hazards may require locating muster points at a greater distance.
Although it may seem obvious, it's important to locate your muster point in an area that is large enough to accommodate everyone (including any customers, contractors, or visitors to the work site) and far enough away that it does not interfere with emergency vehicles.
3. Maps of the Best Possible Route Should Be Displayed
In situations where the building or worksite is large or complicated, maps should be posted at exits and in stairwells depicting the best path to the muster point. Alternative routes should also be planned in case something impedes the first choice.
Although getting to the muster point might seem simple most of the time, this is not always the case during emergencies when panic or emotions can get in the way of common sense. Maps of the best route also help visitors who are less familiar with your worksite get to safety.
4. Clearly Mark and Identify Muster Points
Muster points must be clearly identified by signage. The signs should be mounted high enough so they are not hidden by pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and large enough to be seen in poor lighting conditions. Reflective lettering or additional lighting is recommended (learn How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility).
If there are multiple employers in proximity, it is helpful to include a company logo on the signage to minimize confusion.
5. Communication Is an Important Part of Your Muster Point Plan
Many people, including workers new to your organization, are not aware of the purpose or importance of muster points. Because of this, you must provide new employees with information about muster points at their very first orientation.
You should also remind your workers of emergency procedures and the importance of muster points on a regular basis. Emphasize the fact that they must not only gather at the site in the event of an emergency, but also wait there until they receive further instructions from company officials or emergency personnel.
6. Make Sure Employees Are Aware of Multiple Muster Points
If your workplace is a large industrial site or a complex facility like a college or hospital, more than one muster point will be required.
Sometimes, the muster points are determined by floor, department, or area of the building. In these cases, you must make sure all workers known which muster point is assigned to their area of the facility in order to minimize overcrowding and confusion during egress.
It is also important to let workers know that muster points are assigned to an area of the workplace, not to individual workers. When workers move around the building or worksite, they must use the muster point assigned to the area they are in at the time, not attempt to get back to the one assigned to their usual post.
7. Safe Access to the Muster Point Is a Priority
Evacuation routes should include emergency lighting to assist with a safe exit. Exit routes should also be clearly identified, free from any blockage or clutter, and display maps to the muster point.
You also need to have a plan in place to ensure that workers with restricted mobility have assistance getting out of the building and to the gathering site.
8. You Must Account for Everyone at the Muster Point
Getting employees to the muster point safely and quickly is the number one priority. The second priority is to account for everyone who was on your worksite. To accomplish this, you need to appoint a "captain" who will oversee a missing person survey at the muster point to ensure no one has been left behind.
The muster point captain should be identified through visible attire (such as a brightly colored safety vest) and is the point of contact for the fire department or other first responders. The muster point captain can be a supervisor or any other employee – providing them with a roll call and a checklist on a clipboard will usually give them enough confidence and remind them of their key responsibilities.
9. Rehearsals Are Worth the Time
A solid muster plan only works if it is executed properly. Quarterly muster drills will ensure that your employees are familiar with the safe evacuation process and the route to the muster point.
Your muster point captains should also use these drills as an opportunity to review the evacuation and assembly process. Is the evacuation taking longer than planned? Are there obstacles that were not previously accounted for? Are there hazards at or near the muster point itself?
10. Share Muster Point Information with Visitors
Make sure visitors, contractors, and temporary workers know where the muster point is located and how to get there. Remember, during emergency situations at your workplace, you are responsible for everyone’s welfare (for related reading, see Transient Workers vs. Temporary Employees: Know Your Training Obligations).
Muster points are a critical component to every emergency plan. They must be clearly identified and easy to find. Safe evacuation from a building or worksite followed by organized assembly requires consideration for your particular workplace, type of work, potential hazards, and external threats. Make sure that your organization rehearses muster point assembly on a regular basis so that you can be as prepared as possible for real emergency situations.