An emergency response plan (ERP) or also called an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is required by OSHA, but to be truly effective it needs to account for site specific hazards.
OSHA has minimal requirements for what to include in a basic emergency response plan; learn more here. For optimal workplace safety, there are emergency response plan best practices you should consider while drafting your plan.
Set Specific Evacuation Routes and Exits
OSHA Publication 3088 “How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations” states that at a minimum, your emergency action plan must include emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace evacuation maps, and safe or refuge areas.
Most employers create maps from floor diagrams with arrows that designate the exit route assignments. These maps should include locations of exits, assembly points and equipment (such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, spill kits) that may be needed in an emergency. Exit routes should be clearly marked and well lit, wide enough to accommodate the number of evacuating personnel, unobstructed and clear of debris at all times, and unlikely to expose evacuating personnel to additional hazards.
OSHA says that when preparing drawings that show evacuation routes and exits, you need to post them prominently for all employees to see.
Here are some important requirements to consider:
- Make exit route design permanent.
- Ensure the number of exit routes is adequate based on the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, and the arrangement of the workplace.
- Separate an exit route from other workplace areas with materials that have the proper fire resistance-rating for the number of stories the route connects.
- Ensure exit routes meet width and height requirements. The width of exit routes must be sufficient to accommodate the maximum permitted occupant load of each floor served by the exit route.
- Ensure doors used to access exit routes have side hinges and swing in the direction of travel (depending on occupancy and hazard areas).
- Design exit routes which lead to an outside area with enough space for all occupants.
- An outdoor exit route is permitted, but may have additional site-specific requirements.
- Maintain the fire-retardant properties of paints and solutions that are used in exit routes.
- Ensure required exit routes and fire protections are available and maintained, especially during repairs and alterations.
- Ensure employee alarm systems are installed, operable, and in compliance with 29 CFR 1910.165 (Note: See Section I.A.5.).
- Direct employees through exit routes using clearly visible signs. These signs must meet the required letter height and illumination specifications.
- When openings could be mistaken for an exit, post appropriate signs stating “NOT AN EXIT.”
- Arrange exit routes so employees are not exposed to the dangers of high hazard areas.
- Exit routes must be free and unobstructed. Prevent obstructions, such as decorations, furnishings, locked doorways, and dead-ends within exit routes.
Check Out: Emergency Exits – OSHA Standards
General Training Responsibilities for an Emergency Response Plan
Educate your employees about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of your workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of onsite or outside resources will determine your training requirements.
- Make sure all employees understand the function and elements of your emergency action plan, including types of potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, and evacuation plans.
- For those employees that are assigned to perform the task, make sure they are trained on emergency shutdown procedures.
- Discuss any special hazards you may have onsite such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances.
- Inform employees of the fire hazards to which they are exposed to and review with each employee those parts of the fire prevention plan necessary for self-protection.
When drafting your emergency action plan, you may wish to select a responsible individual, or more depending upon size, to lead and coordinate your emergency plan and evacuation. It is critical that employees know who the coordinator is and understand that person has the authority to make decisions during emergencies.
Designate Evacuation Coordinator(s)
The coordinator(s) should be responsible for the following:
- Assessing the situation to determine whether an emergency exists requiring activation of your emergency procedures;
- Supervising all efforts in the area, including evacuating personnel;
- Coordinating outside emergency services, such as medical aid and local fire departments, and ensuring that they are available and notified when necessary; and
- Directing the shutdown of plant operations when required.
You also may find it beneficial to coordinate the action plan with other employers when several employers share the worksite, although OSHA standards do not specifically require this.
Emergency evacuation coordinators also need opportunities to practice these skills during response drills and exercises.
Assisting People During Evacuations
Employees designated to assist in emergencies should be made aware of employees with special needs (who may require extra assistance during an evacuation), how to use the buddy system, and any hazardous areas to avoid during an emergency evacuation. If there are any employees with special needs at your worksite it will be important to be aware of their needs once evacuated. You may want to consider evacuating all special needs employees to the same location if possible. At the very least consider whether the designated evacuation area is suitable to meet the needs of any special needs employees while an emergency is being addressed.
Accounting for all Employees
Accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. Confusion in the assembly areas can lead to delays in rescuing anyone trapped in the building, or unnecessary and dangerous search-and-rescue operations. To ensure the fastest, most accurate accounting of your employees, consider taking a head count after the evacuation. The names and last known locations of anyone not accounted for should be passed on to the official in charge.
Accounting for Visitors
Some employers have all visitors and contractors sign in when entering the workplace. The hosts and/or area wardens, if established, are often tasked with assisting these individuals evacuate safely.
Update the EAP Regularly
Operations and personnel change frequently, and an outdated plan will be of little value or use in an emergency. You should review and evaluate the effectiveness the contents of your plan regularly. Update the EAP whenever:
- employee emergency actions or responsibilities change,
- when there is a change in the layout or design of the facility, new equipment, hazardous materials,
- processes are introduced that affect evacuation routes
- new types of hazards are introduced that require special actions