Review Emergency Plans With Employees, Says ASSE

An unplanned catastrophe, such as the major black-out that hit part of the United States last week could occur at any time and any place.

To prevent pandemonium, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) suggests companies consistently review their emergency plans with employees to ensure their safety. From the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to Homeland Security to the Red Cross, there are excellent resources available that provide guidance on developing and implementing emergency plans, including ASSE safety resources. However, all contingency plans must be flexible since each emergency has its own unique set of circumstances.

Emergency planning encompasses many kinds of risks. Web sites with valuable contingency planning information include emergency preparedness, response and evacuation procedures information can be found at www.osha.gov/SLTC/smallbusiness/sec10.html and www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/evacuation/alarms.html; www.ready.gov, www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/chemagent, www.tsa.gov and www.redcross.org.

For those employers housed in a high-rise building, OSHA notes appropriate exits, alarms, emergency lighting, communication systems and sprinkler systems are critical for employee safety. When designing and maintaining exits, it is essential to ensure that routes leading to the exits, as well as the areas beyond the exits, are accessible and free from materials or items that would impede individuals from easily and effectively evacuating.

ASSE notes that an emergency is not a time to plan, it is a time to react. Companies must look at what could be the possible risks and hazards and develop and implement a safety management plan that can be integrated into all areas, these include the workplace, the home, schools and while traveling.

State and local building code officials can help employers ensure that the building's design and safety systems are adequate. Preparing in advance to safely evacuate the building is critical to the safety of employees who work there. For instance, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) before an emergency occurs, employees should:

  • Be familiar with the worksite's emergency evacuation plan;
  • Know the pathway to at least two alternative exits from every room/area at the workplace;
  • Recognize the sound/signaling method of the fire/evacuation alarms;
  • Know who to contact in an emergency and how to contact them;
  • Know how many desks or cubicles are between your workstation and two of the nearest exits so you can escape in the dark if necessary;
  • Know where the fire/evacuation alarms are located and how to use them; and
  • Report damaged or malfunctioning safety systems and back-up systems.

Because every building has unique characteristics involving location, design, construction, and occupancy, this information covers only some of the basic considerations for safe evacuation. These recommendations do not substitute for a site-specific evacuation program nor does it detail specific OSHA or OSHA-approved state plan standards that may be applicable to individual worksites.

In addition to the work site, employers, safety professionals and the Department of Homeland Security recommend that for the home, families make an emergency preparedness kit, a communication plan and stay informed. Emergency preparedness kits should include such items as three days' worth of nonperishable food and water, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, and an adequate supply of required medications. The Blackout of 2003 also pointed out the need for "land-line" telephones that are not cordless and do not rely upon electricity; the need for alternative transportation solutions should public transportation fail; some cash on hand should ATM machines and banks close down; and a pair of comfortable shoes at work, should the need arise to walk down many flights of stairs or, if necessary, walk home.

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