Workplace emergencies can take many forms: A workplace shooting or stabbing incident, an earthquake or tornado, a fire or explosion, a chemical spill. When the worst happens, it is too late to get prepared. You have to be prepared before you know what will happen.
First, don't underestimate the potential for disaster to strike. Even businesses that consider themselves "low-risk" are not immune to workplace violence and natural disasters. All businesses should have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in place that covers the basic contingencies.
Actually, OSHA requires an EAP to be in place, under 29 CFR 1910.28. If you have ten employees or more, that plan must be written. If you have fewer than 10 employees, communicating the plan orally is sufficient.
Under OSHA rules, all EAPs must contain the following minimum elements:
- Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency
- Procedures for evacuation
- Exit route assignments
- Procedures for employees who remain behind to operate critical plant operations prior to evacuating,
- Accountability procedures after an evacuation
- Procedures for employees performing rescue or medical tasks
- The name or job title of every employee who may be contacted by employees who need more information about the plan or about their duties.
Additionally, employers must maintain an alarm system in accordance with Section 1910.165.
Fire Prevention Plans
The law also requires employers to maintain a fire prevention plan in accordance with Section 1910.39. These must also have certain minimum elements, including the following:
- A list of major fire hazards, to include storage and handling procedures for HAZMAT and potential sources of ignition.
- The type of fire equipment required to contain or control each hazard.
- Procedures for controlling accumulations.
- Name or title of those responsible for maintaining fire prevention equipment and controlling fuel source hazards.
First Aid and Medical Equipment Requirements
Generally, Section 1910.151(b) requires worksites to have a first aid kit on hand. The minimum contents of a first aid kit for most worksites are described in American National Standard (ANSI) z3801.-1998, "Minimum Requirements for Workplace First-Aid Kits." However, employers should supplement these kits based on historical and likely needs. One way to identify these needs from past experiences and create an institutional memory to anticipate future needs is to record incidents on an OSHA 300 log or OSHA 301 log.
If employers anticipate that aid providers will be exposed to blood or other possibly infectious fluids, the employer is responsible for providing personal protective equipment (PPE), in accordance with the Occupational Exposure to Blood borne Pathogens standard, § 1910.1030(d)(3) (56 FR 64175).
While this law only requires the employer to review the plan with employees when they are hired, when their responsibilities change, or when the plan changes, it's important to periodically revisit and reinforce the plan. A real-world emergency will require the organization to execute the plan under stress, and there may not be time to review an emergency binder to read about one's own responsibilities under the plan.
An emergency action plan, after all, is only as good as the leaders and employees who implement it. Not every employee is going to have experience in emergencies, and not all will react the same way. In a crisis, some may freeze, while others will take charge and perform well beyond their pay grade. However, rehearsing or at least chalk-talking the EAP from time to time will allow even inexperienced leaders to focus on their responsibilities and execute them when it counts.