Almost every business is required to have an emergency action plan (EAP).
If fire extinguishers are required or provided in your workplace, and if anyone will be evacuating during a fire or other emergency(which means that people are in your workplace), then OSHA [29 CFR 1910.157] requires you to have an EAP.
The only exemption to this is if you have an in-house fire brigade in which every employee is trained and equipped to fight fires, and consequently, no one evacuates.
In most circumstances, immediate evacuation is the best policy, especially if professional firefighting services are available to respond quickly. There may be situations where employee firefighting is warranted to give other workers time to escape, or to prevent danger to others by spread of a fire. In this case, you as the employer are still required to have an EAP.
Minimum requirements of an Emergency Action Plan(EAP)
Producing a thorough emergency action plan that addresses factors specific to your worksite is straightforward. It requires using what was recognized and learned from a workplace assessment and describing the way employees should respond to various kinds of emergencies, taking into consideration your unique worksite layout, structural features, and emergency systems. The commitment and support of all employees is essential to the plan’s success in case of an emergency; request their assistance in creating and employing your emergency action plan. For smaller organizations, the plan does not need to be written and may be communicated orally if there are 10 or fewer employees. [29 CFR 1910.38(b)]
At a minimum, the plan must include but is not limited to the following elements [29 CFR 1910.38(c)]:
- Means of reporting fires and other emergencies: Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency. There are preferred procedures for reporting emergencies such as dialing 911, or an internal emergency number, or pulling a manual fire alarm but there are many other possibilities. [29 CFR 1910.38(c)(1)]
- Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments: Evacuation policies, procedures, and escape route assignments are put into place so that employees understand who is authorized to order an evacuation, under what conditions an evacuation would be necessary, how to evacuate, and what routes to take. Exit diagrams are typically used to identify the escape routes to be followed by employees from each specific facility location. [29 CFR 1910.38(c)(2)]
- Procedures for employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate: Employees may be required to operate fire extinguishers or shut down gas and/or electrical systems and other special equipment that could be damaged if left operating or create additional hazards to emergency responders (such as releasing hazardous materials). [29 CFR 1910.38(c)(3)]
- Accounting for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed: Procedures to account for employees after the evacuation to ensure that everyone got out may include designating employees to sweep areas, checking offices and rest rooms before being the last to leave a workplace or conducting a roll call in the assembly area. Many employers designate an “evacuation warden” to assist others in an evacuation and to account for personnel. [29 CFR 1910.38(c)(4)]
- Rescue and Medical Duties for Employees Performing Them: Most small organizations rely on local public resources such as the local fire department or hospital to provide these services. [29 CFR 1910.38(c)(5)]
- Names or job titles of persons who can be contacted: Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of employees who can be contacted for additional information and/or explanation of their duties under the plan. [29 CFR 1910.38(c)(6)]
Also consider a section when you need to shelter in place.
Although not specifically required by OSHA, you may find it helpful to include the following in your plan:
- A description of the alarm system to be used to notify employees (including disabled employees) to evacuate and/or take other actions. The alarms used for different actions should be distinctive and might include horn blasts, sirens, or even public address systems.
- The site of an alternative communications center to be used in the event of a fire or explosion.
- A secure on- or offsite location to store originals or duplicate copies of accounting records, legal documents, your employees’ emergency contact lists, and other essential records.