"The most important asset an employer has is its employees," said ASSE Regional Vice President Brian Clarke, CSP. "It is of paramount importance for employers to have and communicate with their employees plans and procedures aimed at increasing their safety."
Clarke pointed out there is a need for flexibility and for an understanding of all the hazards that exist and the ways of addressing these hazards. Emergency planning encompasses many kinds of risks, he noted, adding many ASSE members already built flexibility into their plans. "We advise others to do the same," said Clarke.
From OSHA to the Department of Homeland Security to the Red Cross to ASSE, there are many resources available to provide guidance on developing and implementing emergency plans. When reviewing these plans, companies must realize that all contingency plans must be flexible since each emergency has its own unique set of circumstances and risk.
"Safety professionals understand hazard and vulnerability analysis," Clarke added. "ASSE suggests businesses and all employers review their prepared plans with a new appreciation for the need to be flexible and begin to understand the kinds of hazards that can exist today and review these with their employees."
For example, for those employers housed in a high-rise building, OSHA suggests that 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.
"An emergency is not a time to plan, it is a time to react," Clarke said. "As occupational safety, health and environmental professionals do every day, you 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. Before an emergency occurs, OSHA suggests that employees in high-rise buildings 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 the workstation and two of the nearest exits so escape in the dark is possible if necessary;
- Know where the fire/evacuation alarms are located and how to use them;
- Report damaged or malfunctioning safety systems and back-up systems.
Web sites with valuable contingency planning information include OSHA's suggested emergency preparedness, response and evacuation procedures at www.osha.gov/SLTC/smallbusiness/sec10.html and www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/evacuation/alarms.html, the Department of Homeland Security Web site at www.ready.gov, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/chemagent.html, the Transportation Security Administration at www.tsa.gov, the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at www.fema.gov.