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Practice Makes Perfect: Adding Action to Words

According to OSHA, “Drafting an emergency action plan (EAP) is not enough to ensure the safety of your employees. When an evacuation is necessary, you will need responsible, trained individuals who can supervise and coordinate activities to ensure a safe and successful evacuation. An EAP will be useful only if its content is up to date and employees are sufficiently educated and trained before an actual evacuation.”

In an emergency your workers have to respond fast and effectively. There’s no time for second-guessing or asking questions. Employees must be properly trained in emergency response long before the day they have to act. 

All employees should be able to recognize the emergency alarm and know what to do when they hear it. They should also know how and when to activate alarms–and the appropriate person to contact if they spot a hazardous situation that could turn into an emergency.

Additionally, all employees should be trained to follow your evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures. It’s not enough to just hand them a sheet of paper with instructions or post instructions on a bulletin board (although that should be done, as well). You have to sit them down and explain the whole thing in a detailed training session.

Then you have to practice the procedures you teach them. Reading or being lectured in a classroom setting imparts general knowledge, but retention is relatively poor the further one gets from that particular time of learning. When hands on application is added to the mix, retention rates soar. This is in part, I believe, because actually performing the procedures learned by reading and hearing provides greater understanding. With understanding comes greater retention of concepts and the ability to adapt that knowledge to changing, fluid situations.

Regular emergency drills ensure that employees really know what to do and can move swiftly and calmly in any emergency situation. If training is not reinforced with drills, details will be forgotten. Consider retraining employees annually to strengthen their knowledge and confidence.

For employees who don’t have specific emergency responsibilities, the following evacuation rules apply when the alarm is sounded:

  • Quickly turn off equipment.
  • Close windows or doors not needed for escape.
  • Alert other employees to evacuate.
  • Assist any employees whose disabilities could slow their evacuation.
  • Evacuate quickly by the assigned route.
  • Go directly to the designated meeting area outside the building and stay there until given further instructions.
  • Do not leave the premises or try to reenter the building.
  • Stay out of the way of emergency personnel.

For employees who have emergency duties, these rules apply:

  • Learn everything necessary about assigned emergency tasks, including required personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment.
  • Get answers to questions about how to perform tasks or about potential hazards.
  • Coordinate actions with other employees who are also performing emergency duties.
  • Listen for and follow the directions of emergency management personnel and emergency responders(firefighters, spill teams, etc.)
  • Perform assigned tasks only if-and only for as long as-it is safe to do so.
  • Know when to evacuate and know the assigned evacuation route.
  • Have an alternate evacuation route in case the primary route is blocked.

Drills and Practice

It is a good idea to hold practice evacuation drills. Evacuation drills permit employees to become familiar with the emergency procedures, their egress routes, and assembly locations, so that if an actual emergency should occur, they will respond properly. Drills should be conducted as often as necessary to keep employees prepared. Include outside resources, such as fire and police departments, when possible. After each drill, gather management and employees to evaluate the effectiveness of the drill. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your plan and work to improve it.

Don’t conduct the same drill every time. Each drill should test a different scenario or challenge that might be encountered in a real emergency. Suggestions would include evacuating an injured or unconscious employee.  An interesting and informative challenge would be to “intercept” three or four employees during the evacuation drill and have them assemble elsewhere- then evaluate how well the accountability process works when they do not show up at their designated assembly point.

While the speed of an evacuation is important, it is not nearly as critical as being successfully completed. Drills and tabletop exercises are the means by which problems and challenges are identified before they occur in a life threatening situation. Test limits during drills and identify weak links in the process.

Operations and personnel change frequently, and an outdated plan will be of little use in an emergency. You should review the contents of your plan regularly and update it whenever an employee’s emergency actions or responsibilities change, or when there is a change in the layout or design of the facility, new equipment, hazardous materials, or processes are introduced that affect evacuation routes, or new types of hazards are introduced that require special actions. The most common outdated item in plans is the facility and agency contact information. Consider placing this important information on a separate page in the front of the plan so that it can be readily updated.

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