Expert: Evacuation Plan a Critical Component of Fire Safety

While workplace fire-prevention measures have improved drastically since 146 garment workers died in blaze at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York City in 1911, when it comes to fire safety, employers still need to be vigilant and prepared to deal with the unexpected which means having a viable evacuation plan, one expert says.

David Gold, an occupational safety and health expert with the International Labor Organization, points to the evacuation of the World Trade Center complex on Sept. 11 as an example of the importance of having a viable evacuation plan. While some 4,000 workers in the twin towers died that day, Gold, in the most recent edition of "ILO Online," noted that more than 25,000 lives were saved there because of an effective evacuation plan.

"Where a large number of workers are concerned, it is not possible to evacuate the working areas in a timely manner without an evacuation plan," Gold said.

According to Gold, the fundamentals components of an evacuation plan are:

  • Emergency planning, addressing the action that need to be taken in the event of a fire.
  • At a minimum, two well-lit, clearly marked, unobstructed paths from the workstation to a safe area. Evacuation routes and alternative routes should be posted clearly at each workstation. Batteries and backup generators need to be in place to assure adequate lighting to support evacuation.
  • Coordination among the employer, the in-hour emergency response service and local emergency response services.
  • A system for accounting for workers, visitors and guests in a safe area and procedures for assisting the disabled in emergency evacuation.

Gold has seen improvement in fire-prevention and emergency management efforts throughout the world, even in developing countries. He noted that in the wake of the 1993 fire at the Kader Industrial Co. Ltd. factory in Thailand which killed 188 workers the International Labor Organization developed a fire-prevention checklist that since has been translated into Thai.

Gold said that fire-safety awareness in Thailand has been raised as a result.

"Addressing the [17th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work] in Orlando, Fla., Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister of Thailand, said that 'prevention is paying not only in human terms but also in better performance by businesses and national economic strength,'" Gold explained.

As we continue to move into the global economy, Gold asserted that "[t]here is a moral obligation to provide workers with an adequate level of fire protection, no matter where they are located."

"Desire for competitiveness in this new market should not lead to compromise in fundamental industrial fire safety provisions," he said.

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