Emergency response plans in the workplace
Arecent HRinfodesk poll asked readers if they have an emergency response plan at their workplace. Out of 146 respondents, 105 respondents (72 percent) said they do.
This is good news for workplace health and safety awareness. But why is it important? Emergencies, disasters, hazards, threats and vulnerabilities can occur at any time without warning. The more an organization is prepared for any emergency or devastating event, the better they are able to act, minimizing panic and confusion when it occurs.
Public Safety Canada offers the following definitions:
- An emergency is a present or imminent event that requires prompt coordination of actions concerning persons or property to protect the health, safety or welfare of people, or to limit damage to property or the environment.
- A disaster is essentially a social phenomenon that results when a hazard intersects with a vulnerable community in a way that exceeds or overwhelms the community's ability to cope and may cause serious harm to the safety, health, welfare, property or environment of people; may be triggered by a naturally occurring phenomenon which has its origins within the geophysical or biological environment or by human action or error, whether malicious or unintentional, including technological failures, accidents and terrorist acts.
- A hazard is a potentially damaging physical event, phenomenon or human activity that may cause the loss of life or injury, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation.
- Threats are the presence of a hazard and an exposure pathway; threats may be natural or human-induced, either accidental or intentional.
- Vulnerabilities are conditions determined by physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes, which increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of hazards. It is a measure of how well-prepared and equipped a community is to minimize the impact of or cope with hazards.
The requirements for emergency preparedness and response are described in the occupational health and safety legislation or regulation of each jurisdiction. These requirements may be specific, as in the federally regulated realm, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec and Yukon, which require employers to have plans for responding to general emergencies in the workplace, (for example, in BC, the requirements for emergency preparedness and response are described in sections 4.13 through 4.18 of the Regulation). Alternatively, some jurisdiction cover plans for responding to general emergencies in the workplace through their general duty clauses, for example, Section 25 of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.
This requirement can also be found in emergency management and civil protection legislation, municipal bylaws or building codes, or in fire protection and prevention legislation. Saskatchewan expressly requires employers to have written fire safety plans that include preparedness and response measures.
There are different kinds of emergency plans, procedures and safety information. Some give instructions on how to use a control measure to prevent any injuries or fatalities, like a lifejacket, warning signs, emergency exits or lights. Others provide information on what to do, what not to do or how to leave a building in case of a dangerous event or catastrophe such as a fire or power shortage or hazardous situation; these include maps or evacuation plans and brochures, alarm instructions, what to do when emergency alerts happen.
It is recommended that all organizations develop an effective emergency response plan for their workplace, no matter which jurisdiction they are in.
This plan should include:
- Policies, practices and procedures
- Education and training
- Monitoring and supervision
- Review and updating
The plan should identify potential hazards, provide guidelines and cover prevention activities, preparedness activities and response activities. These guidelines should be periodically reviewed. Thus it is important that all employees, customers and the public at large know about these plans and information and understand them.
At a minimum, your emergency action plan must include the following:
- A preferred method for reporting fires and other emergencies
- An evacuation policy and procedure
- Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps and safe or refuge areas
- Names, titles, departments and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside your company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan
- Procedures for employees who remain to perform or shut down critical operations, operate fire extinguishers or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating
- Rescue and medical or first aid duties for any workers designated to perform them
- The site of an alternative communications centre to be used in the event of a fire or explosion
- A secure location on- or offsite to store originals or duplicate copies of accounting records, legal documents, your employees' emergency contact lists and other essential records
- A way to alert customers and employees, including disabled customers and employees to evacuate or take other action
In addition, you should:
- Establish procedures for assisting people with disabilities and people who do not speak English
- Provide the plan or safety information in an accessible format that meets the needs of persons (and employees)
with disabilities, so they can be aware of your organization's emergency procedures
- Post evacuation procedures where employees can read them
- Consider designating an assembly location and procedures to account for all persons and employees after an evacuation
All workers should be instructed and trained on the company's emergency response policies, practices and procedures, as well as potential threats, hazards and protective actions. Workers designated to perform specific duties under, for example, a fire response plansuch as evacuating their area of the workplace or putting out the fire, etc.must receive special training. BC requires workers assigned to firefighting duties to have adequate training by a qualified instructor in fire suppression methods, fire prevention, emergency procedures, organization and chain of command, firefighting crew safety and communications.
You should also think of holding emergency drills at least once a year to ensure that employees know what to do in an emergency and to test the effectiveness of emergency exit routes and procedures. Keep records of such drills and who was present.
You should conduct training sessions at least once a year or whenever you:
- Hire new employees
- Designate evacuation wardens or others with special assignments
- Introduce new equipment, materials, or processes
- Find, through exercises, that employee performance during a possible emergency needs to be improved
It is better to be safe than sorry!