What is an Emergency Action Plan?
An emergency action plan (EAP) is a document that outlines the procedures for reporting a workplace emergency and evacuating the workplace.
By having a plan in place before an emergency occurs, organizations are better prepared to promote employee safety and avoid the problems that result from delayed reporting and preventable confusion and chaos.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires a written emergency action plan for all organizations with more than 10 people. The plan should be easy to access, update, and share with everyone in the organization. Workplaces with fewer employees can communicate their plans orally.
Emergency action plans should outline the procedures necessary for different types of disasters, including fire, severe weather, natural disasters, power outages, acts of violence, and other unexpected events.
Know Your EAPs
To avoid confusion, it’s helpful to note that human resources and benefits professionals use the “EAP” acronym in two different ways:
- An emergency action plan (EAP) is discussed here.
- An employee assistance program (EAP) is a workplace benefit that helps employees address everyday challenges that could interfere with work or life. To learn more about this workplace benefit, visit our EAP Program Guide: Everything You Need to Know.
What are the 5 main components of an Emergency Action Plan?
Every organization should create an emergency action plan that addresses its unique needs and challenges. According to OSHA, the minimum requirements for a comprehensive emergency action plan include the following:
1. Procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies
The emergency action plan should clearly outline who handles emergency reporting and how. Fires and other unforeseen events can escalate quickly, and a few minutes delay can increase the loss of life and property.
Dialing 911 is the most common method for reporting a fire or other workplace emergencies, including requesting emergency medical or rescue services.
Some larger organizations may report emergencies by using internal phone numbers that are connected to an intercom system. When this is the case, emergency phone numbers should be posted on or near every workplace phone.
Other organizations may advise employees to pull a manual alarm or activate an alarm system to make others aware of the workplace emergency.
2. Procedures for emergency evacuation
Evacuation policies, procedures, and escape route assignments are put into place so that employees can understand the following before an emergency occurs:
- Who is authorized to order evacuation procedures? The plan should identify who is authorized to make this decision and include a clear chain of command.
- Under what conditions is an evacuation necessary? When is it better to shelter in place?
- What are the evacuation routes? It helps to create diagrams that outline evacuation routes from different locations.
It’s also helpful to schedule regular evacuation drills to test the effectiveness of the emergency action plan. Drills can sometimes reveal the need for new preventive measures or updates.
Some organizations may want to share their emergency action plan with emergency responders before an emergency to familiarize them with the workplace layout and potential hazards.
3. Procedures for employees who operate critical plant operations
Evacuation procedures can vary significantly between large manufacturers and smaller enterprises. The preferred approach is for all employees to evacuate immediately during an emergency.
However, in some larger organizations, workplace emergencies may necessitate that a few employees remain behind to operate critical plant operations or other emergency duties.
For example, some employees may be trained to use portable extinguishers on small fires or shut down gas, electrical systems, and special equipment that could be hazardous if left running. These employees should also be trained to assess their risks and know when it’s time to flee.
Some EAPs include specific plans for employees who perform emergency rescue or medical duties.
4. Procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation
Emergency action plans should include designated assembly areas inside and outside the workplace. Interior areas are often known as “areas of refuge” and are used during tornadoes and other emergencies when it’s necessary to “shelter in place.” The assembly areas should be large enough to accommodate everyone without interfering with emergency responders.
Many organizations designate an evacuation coordinator to assist with evacuation plans and route assignments. Before leaving, the coordinator makes a quick but thorough check to make sure everyone has evacuated. Afterward, they make sure everyone is accounted for at the designated assembly area.
5. Appropriate contact information
Questions and concerns can arise quickly during emergencies. The action plan should include the name, job title, and phone number of specific persons who can be contacted for additional information or clarification during workplace emergencies.
It should also include the names, job titles, and emergency phone numbers of all employees, along with their medical information and next of kin.
How to Create an Emergency Action Plan
Every organization must create a customized emergency action plan that addresses its unique situation and challenges. The following instructions can help you get started.
- Assess your risks. Fire is the most common type of workplace emergency. However, organizations should also evaluate their risks for natural disasters (tornados, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes), civil disturbances, workplace violence, hazardous or toxic material accidents, off-site injuries, vehicle accidents, and other emergencies.
- Develop a plan for each type of risk or emergency. Procedures differ depending on the type of emergency.The plan should outline when it’s necessary to shelter in place and when it’s necessary to evacuate.Most workplaces plan to use local public fire departments and first responders who are trained, equipped, and certified to conduct rescues and facilitate medical duties.However, organizations that work with hazardous materials or in dangerous situations often establish other emergency procedures.If a hospital is not nearby, the organization should have appropriate supplies on hand and someone with adequate first-aid training. The American Red Cross and some insurance providers may be able to provide this training.
- Train your employees on the plan. Make sure your plan is up-to-date and accessible and that people are familiar with alarms and other emergency communications systems. Training should be offered when you first create your plan, when changes are made to the plan, and when new employees are hired.Organizations should provide additional training for individuals who remain behind to shut down critical systems or utilities during a fire. These employees should also be trained on how to assess emergency situations and know when it’s necessary to abandon procedures and evacuate.
- Test and update your plan regularly. Make sure your emergency action plans remain up to date and that employees are familiar with Annual drills can help employees remain familiar with the plan and identify its strengths and weaknesses.
Resources for Creating an Emergency Action Plan
You can find a great deal of information online, including the following :
- OSHA’s Emergency Action Plan eTool is sufficient for most offices, retail shops, and small manufacturers. However, this eTool is not meant to address complex situations that involve hazardous materials or situations where employees perform rescue or medical duties.
- OSHA’s Emergency Action Plan Checklist can help organizations develop a plan that is site-specific for any natural and man-made emergencies and appropriate evacuation procedures.The checklist also reminds organizations to include phone numbers for the local fire department, paramedics, security/alarm company, building manager, and utility companies (electric, water, gas, and telephones).It also reminds organizations to include the names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals to contact for additional information or clarification.
- OSHA’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP) Template is sufficient for many organizations to get started.
Online courses and training programs are also available to help organizations create an emergency action plan. Consultants are also available to help workplaces prepare an action plan.
AllOne Health now provides consulting services to help workplaces create an emergency action plan. To learn more, ask about our Crisis Management Services.