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Be Prepared for an Emergency

Recent headlines remind us of the truth that emergencies and disasters can strike anywhere and at any time. Workers and employers must plan for that possibility. Proper planning before an emergency is necessary to respond effectively. The best way to protect workers is to expect the unexpected. Furthermore, employers must carefully develop an emergency action plan to guide everyone in the workplace when immediate action is necessary. Advance planning helps ensure that everyone knows what to do when an emergency occurs.

What is a workplace emergency?

OSHA defines a workplace emergency as a situation that threatens workers, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage. Emergencies may be natural or man-made. Many types of emergencies can be anticipated. When they are, it helps employers and workers to plan for unpredictable situations.

With little or no warning an emergency or disaster can strike. Employers and employees should be prepared to deal with such situations. It is important to provide guidance for your staff on how to respond to emergency incidents quickly and efficiently. The best way is to prepare a response before an emergency occurs. Preparing before an emergency event occurs plays a vital role in ensuring employers and employees have the right equipment, know where to go when it happens, and learn how to keep safe.

What type of training do workers need?

It is important to educate workers about the types of emergencies that may occur. As well as training them in the proper course of action. Ensure that all workers thoroughly understand the emergency action plan. This should include many types of potential emergencies. As well as, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures. Be sure to discuss any special hazards on-site such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances.

Topics for worker training:

  • Individual roles and responsibilities;
  • Threats, hazards, and protective actions;
  • Notification, warning, and communications procedures;
  • Means for contacting family members in an emergency;
  • Any special tasks that workers may be called upon to perform during an emergency (if applicable);
  • Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures;
  • Location and use of common emergency equipment;
  • Who is authorized to perform emergency shutdown procedures (if any);
  • First-aid procedures;
  • Protection against bloodborne pathogens (also see the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030);
  • Respiratory protection (also see the Respiratory Protection standards, 29 CFR 1910.134 and 29 CFR 1926.103); and
  • Methods for preventing unauthorized access to the site.

Once everyone has completed the proper training, it is vital to hold practice drills as often as necessary. It is also a good idea to include outside resources, such as fire and police departments, in the practice drills whenever possible. After each drill, employers should evaluate the effectiveness of the drill. It helps to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the plan. Employers should constantly be looking for ways to improve the plan. The next question to consider is how often to train workers? It is a good practice to review the plan and require annual training on the plan.

Also conduct training after:

  • Development of the initial plan;
  • The hiring of new workers;
  • Introduction of new equipment, materials, or processes into the workplace that affects evacuation routes;
  • Reassignment of workers or changing their job duties;
  • Change of layout or design of the facility; and
  • Revision or updating of emergency procedures.

Finally, an important decision is selecting a responsible individual to lead and coordinate the emergency plan and evacuation. It is critical that workers know who the coordinator is. Furthermore, they must understand that the coordinator has the authority to make decisions during emergencies. Employers should consider making available an emergency communication system to serve as the means of notifying workers of an emergency. It may also assist in contacting local law enforcement, the local fire department, and others. Employers should also provide an updated list of key personnel such as the plant manager or physician, in order of priority, to notify in the event of an emergency during off-duty hours.

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