Monday, August 15, 2011

Developing Emergency Action Plans

   Emergencies, by definition, happen unexpectedly, and may take many forms. OSHA requires employers to review the workplace for likely sources of emergency, and develop controls to protect their employees.
   In general, an emergency can be thought of as any unplanned event that can cause injury or illness to employees, visitors, or the general public. Events that disrupt business, harm the company’s financial standing, or public image, may also be included. Weather-related emergencies, fire, and natural disaster are probably the most common hazards encountered, but chemical releases and terrorist activities may also need to be considered.
   I know I must sound like a broken record, but, of course, the first step is for the employer to evaluate the workplace for likely hazards. Many resources are available to assist, including information from government agencies, insurance carriers, and independent consultants. This step is crucial to developing a meaningful Emergency Action Plan. Wholesale coping of plans from the internet or other companies, will usually leave the employer with a plan that does not effectively address the realistic hazards they may face. For example if an employer is situated on the coast, and hurricane response plan may be needed, but it would be a waste of resources for a company located in the Midwest.
   After the hazards have been identified, then the employer can develop controls and response plans to safeguard employees and assets. OSHA requires that the plan include:
1) Emergency escape procedures and emergency escape route assignments;
2) Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate;
3) Procedures to account for all employees after emergency evacuation has been completed;
4) Rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them;
5) The preferred means of reporting fires and other emergencies; and
6) Names or regular job titles of persons or departments who can be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan.
   Both the General Industry and Construction regulations require that the plan be a written document that is available for employee review. There is an exception for employers with ten or fewer employees. In this case the plan may does not have to be written, and may be communicated to employees orally.
   After an effective plan is implemented, then employees must receive training on the contents of the plan that will affect their safety. This training should be a part of new-hire orientation so that employees are protected from the moment they begin their jobs. Employees must receive retraining if the plan changes, if they move to a different position with different hazards, and at least annually, thereafter.
   Protecting employees in the event of an emergency is a requirement under OSHA standards, and is the duty of the employer. With effective analysis of the potential hazards, and effective communication to the affected employees, the employer can maintain compliance with the standard, and protect  employees, which is the ultimate goal.


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