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10 Keys to an Effective Emergency Action Plan

Earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes-having an action plan is an important part of emergency preparedness. However, merely writing one isn’t enough. You also have to make sure it is workable.

There are 10 key points to consider when developing an emergency action plan:


  1. Since electricity is often not available during an emergency, do not store your action plan in electronic form only; make sure there are hard copies readily available. Also, make sure phone lists associated with your plan are available in hard copy and not stored solely in an electronic document or on phone speed-dial lists.
  2. List the location of important utility shutoffs, and include digital photos of them so that they can be located quickly and easily (and when doing your regular safety inspections, make sure access to shutoffs is not blocked). Remember, too, to include the location of any tools or keys needed to access the shutoffs-it does no good knowing where the shutoff is if it can’t actually be shut off.
  3. In addition to utility shutoffs, list any equipment or machinery that needs to be shut down in an emergency and who has responsibility for doing so.
  4. Consider asking Human Resources to update contact lists. They are generally in a better position than other administrative personnel when it comes to having access to employee contact phone numbers-and they also know when employees leave or move to different positions.
  5. Have each department review all pertinent parts of the plan to ensure accuracy and workability. Often, if one person is charged with writing the plan, he or she will write something that looks good on paper but works poorly in real life.
  6. Conduct periodic drills to ensure employees know what to do in an emergency. Be sure to critique the drills afterward to fine tune your plan (for example, did employees recognize the evacuation alarm, did they turn off machines or equipment required to be turned off, and did they evacuate in an orderly and timely fashion?).
  7. Be sure to include provisions in your plan for visitors to your facility: How do you account for their whereabouts and who is in charge of ensuring they know how to evacuate?
  8. If necessary, include plan provisions regarding who has authority to allow employees back into buildings or restart operations.
  9. Since emergencies don’t always happen on Tuesdays at 10 a.m., when writing your plan, be sure to take into account variations in emergency procedures that account for differences in shifts or days of the week (for example, fewer or no staff at your facility, fewer supervisors, darkness, etc.).
  10. List in the plan the locations of special equipment (for example, special protective suits to be used in the event of a chemical release) and emergency supplies (food, water, etc. in the event employees are stranded at your facility), and remember to do periodic inventories to ensure they are where you say they are and that equipment is in working order.

Your level of preparation for emergencies will determine how well your employees and your facility survive these incidents. It will also establish how OSHA views your compliance with emergency action requirements.

Just about anywhere you look in the OSHA standards, you’ll find some reference to workplace emergencies. Subparts E, H, K, L, and Z of the general industry standards, for example, all mention emergency preparedness and issue a lot of rules with which you must comply.

The nature and scale of your emergency planning and compliance effort, of course, depend on the kind of business you’re in and the types of workplace emergencies you and your employees are most likely to experience.

But all employers need to have a plan that anticipates the worst and prepares employees to survive any possible event-even the most catastrophic.

Critical Compliance Questions

Here are just a few of the critical questions you need to ask to make sure you’re in compliance with OSHA preparedness requirements:

  • Do you have a written emergency action plan that spells out the what, when, how, and who of emergency response?
  • Are all your employees familiar with your emergency action plan?
  • Do workers have assigned evacuation routes and designated gathering places outside your facility?
  • Have you established and tested effective communications systems for use during workplace emergencies?
  • Do employees understand how to carry out any emergency duties they’ve been assigned?
  • Do they know how and to whom to report workplace emergencies?
  • Are your alarm systems in compliance with the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.165 (Employee Alarm Systems)?
  • Do you have functioning emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems?
  • Do you hold regular fire drills, evaluate performance, and retrain as necessary?
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