Office Escape: What to Do in the Event of an Emergency

Aug. 27, 2002
If a fire broke out or an emergency arose in your workplace, would employees know what to do? Planning in advance and keeping a level head can mean the difference between safety and danger.

"We [want everyone] to start thinking about fire safety not just at home, but at the workplace, too," says John Drengenberg, Global Consumer Affairs manager at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). "Preparation now could lead to an easier escape, should the need ever arise."

UL offers these steps you can share with employees to prevent accidents and loss of life in workplace emergencies.

Be prepared by knowing:

  • The location of the nearest fire alarm, how to use it and what its signal is.
  • The location of the two nearest exits from your work area.
  • The number of doors, desks, work stations, etc., between workstations and the nearest exit. During a fire, it may be necessary to use these "landmarks" to navigate if the lights go out.

Don't panic and don't assume someone else has called emergency services personnel. When calling the fire department (9-1-1), remain calm and give the dispatcher as much information as you know.

Other tips offered by UL:

  • Never take the elevator during a fire. You may be trapped if the power goes out.
  • Before opening any door, feel the handle with the back of your hand for heat. Then, feel the door itself, starting from the bottom and moving to the top. If the door is hot, do not try to open it. Smoke and flames may rush into your room. If the door is cool, open it slowly but be prepared to quickly shut it, if smoke or heat rushes in.
  • Leave quickly, closing doors as you go to contain fire and smoke.
  • If you encounter smoke or flame during your escape, use another exit. Heat and smoke rise, so cleaner air will be near the floor. Get as low as possible to the floor and move toward the exit.
  • Once outside, move away from the building and stay out until emergency personnel say it is safe.
  • If co-workers are still inside, notify firefighters. Don't attempt to rescue co-workers yourself once you've made it outside.
  • If you cannot escape safely, remain calm and protect yourself by closing as many doors as possible between you and the fire. Use wet materials -jackets, towels, etc. - to seal all cracks where smoke can enter.
  • If there's a telephone in the room where you're trapped, call the fire department emergency number and tell them exactly where you are. Wait at a window if possible and signal for help by waving an object that can be seen from a distance. If possible, open a window for air, but do not break it as you may need to close the window if smoke rushes in.

UL suggests employers conduct regular mandatory fire drills at least twice a year, and post building evacuation routes throughout the facility. Employers are also urged to consider employees with special needs when conducting emergency planning. Finally, ensure fire exits and doorways are never blocked.

For more fire safety and other safety material, visit UL's Web site at

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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