No business ever plans on a disaster or crisis situation. Unfortunately they just happen, and they normally happen very quickly. But before events unfold, it is an employer’s responsibility to prepare and plan on the steps necessary to protect employees and building occupants. In fact, not only are employers responsible, they are required to do so by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration, under Codified Federal Regulations: 29 CFR 1910.33-.39 (Subpart B).

But before managers can formally outline a plan, they must consider two things. First, understand that all employees, at all levels, need to be aware of the plan. More specifically, they all must know what to do if an evacuation is required.

Second, all staff must be trained on the reasons an evacuation might be necessary. For example, unfortunately, facility cleaning managers must consider the active shooter scenario. You never know when a heated argument that began at home is going to make its way into the workplace. You never know when a pipe may burst, spewing hazardous chemicals that are threatening to occupant health. It’s also impossible to predict the timing of an earthquake.

This is why it is paramount to address and consider all potential scenarios. Once managers understand the threats, develop specific plans of what the staff is supposed to do in the event of one occurring.

What To Consider When Planning

When putting an emergency action plan together, it is essential to make it specific to each facility. Employees working in separate buildings may be exposed to different threats. Hazards must be evaluated based on the building and/or operations within that building. Granted, there are similar situations that may exist between facilities, but managers must be sure to look at all the hazard potentials when developing a plan.

For example, a commercial high-rise office building is different than an industrial processing facility or a hospital. And on a university campus, there are living quarters, office buildings, facilities with classrooms, dining halls, etc. Each facility has its own unique characteristics that must be evaluated and considered.

When starting a plan, first examine the exits and routes employees and building occupants need to travel in the event of an emergency. Use a floor plan to identify the appropriate exit doors and walk the routes prior to finalizing the process on paper. The exit routes must have a width of at least 28-inches wide and 7-feet-6-inches high. Regulations also require that the doors throughout the exit route must open in the direction of travel and routes should be illuminated, indicating the direction of travel.

Make sure doors are plainly marked and clearly visible, indicating proper exits. Non-exit doors should also be appropriately marked and alternate travel routes must be available in case a primary route is blocked.

Beyond those regulations, it is imperative that departments guarantee that these routes are unblocked and unobstructed at all times. Not only inside the facility, but the exit discharge points — egress between the building exit and a public way such as a street, alley or parking lot — must also be clear at all times.

It is up to the custodial department to maintain the halls and stairways that make up the exit routes. Regular cleaning should guarantee that all debris is removed, floors are clean and dry, and matting is properly placed, so there are no slip or trip hazards present.

Once the appropriate exit path is outlined, post the final plan in obvious locations throughout the facility. Also, make sure all staff is properly trained on what to do in the event of an emergency.

When designing an Emergency Preparedness Plan, management must recognize and understand that when a crisis does occur, chaos will often follow. This is especially true if smoke, rising water or any other threat interferes with building occupants trying to evacuate the facility. Panic will normally set in, which leads to even more disarray. The staff facilities should be trained to remain calm and assist in the evacuation of occupants.

In the event of a weather situation, the plan should outline areas within the facility that can serve as a shelter for occupants. These designated areas need to have structural support and must be away from glass or the potentials of flying debris. As is the case with an evacuation route, these spaces should be free from clutter or obstructions.

These areas should be properly stocked with necessary safety supplies, such as first aid kits, flashlights and drinking water. These essential supplies need to be assembled, dated and inventoried here for potential use. It’s wise to designate someone to be the keeper of these supplies, guaranteeing they are properly maintained and ready in the case of an emergency.

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Ten Tips For Developing An Emergency Plan