When it comes to emergencies, you might ask yourself, how can I possibly prepare all of my employees for all possible disasters that can arise? Training for every conceivable emergency can seem daunting. How are you supposed to know what to train and at what frequency?
An emergency in the workplace is any situation that threatens the lives of workers, customers, or the public. The emergency can disrupt or shut down operations, cause physical or environmental damage, and can be either natural or man-made. Planning for all potential emergencies will help both you and your employees be ready for unexpected situations.
The size of your facility and workforce will determine your training requirements. However, everyone in your business must be trained on all of the functions and elements of your emergency action plan (EAP) and the types of emergencies that could potentially occur at work. The EAP must include information for your employees, including:
- Potential types of emergencies;
- Reporting procedures;
- Alarm systems;
- Evacuation plans; and
- Shutdown procedures.
Make sure to include any special hazards specific to your facility, including any toxic chemicals, flammable materials, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances. Employees must be aware of any potential fire hazards, and you must review the parts of your fire prevention plan needed for self-protection with each employee.
Concerning emergency preparedness, general training for employees must cover:
- Individual roles and responsibilities;
- Threats, hazards, and protective actions;
- Notification, warning, and communications procedures;
- Means for locating family members in an emergency;
- Emergency response procedures;
- Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures;
- Location and use of common emergency equipment; and
- Emergency shutdown procedures.
Employees must know when and how to sound an alarm in the event of an emergency, recognize when an alarm is activated, notify emergency personnel, and know what to do for each alarm type when it is sounded. Evacuation routes and exits must be well-known to employees and clearly laid out in floor plans of your building displayed throughout your facility.
If you have a fire extinguisher or other equipment used in the EAP on-site, you must provide employees with an educational program at initial employment and retrain them annually. Communicate relevant fire hazards and self-protection procedures in the event of a fire to your employees.
Your employees must also know who is in charge in the event of an emergency. Who is the emergency coordinator? Who are the evacuation wardens?
The emergency coordinator is in charge of making decisions during emergencies. An evacuation warden is responsible for moving people out of one area to safety. Generally, one warden per 20 employees should be adequate. The wardens must be trained in the complete workplace layout and the various alternative escape routes.
You should appoint a team of employees to assist the emergency coordinator. The team must be specially trained for potential emergencies and know how to effectively carry out specific duties, including:
- Use of various types of fire extinguishers;
- First aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA);
- Requirements of the OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard;
- Shutdown procedures;
- Chemical spill control procedures;
- Search and emergency rescue procedures; and
- Hazardous materials emergency response.
Employees expected to administer medical aid must be trained and given adequate supplies to administer first aid when necessary. These employees should be trained in first-aid procedures, including:
- Protection against bloodborne pathogens;
- Respiratory protection, including use of an escape-only respirator; and
- Methods for preventing unauthorized access to the site.
When to Train
You must review the EAP with all of your employees when the initial plan is developed and when each employee is initially assigned to a job. Train employees on the EAP when you:
- Develop your initial plan;
- Hire new employees;
- Introduce new equipment, materials, or processes into the workplace that affect evacuation routes;
- Change the layout or design of the facility; and
- Revise or update your emergency procedures.
If your EAP changes, or employee responsibilities change under the plan, you are required to review the EAP with all employees again. Employees should always be up to date with your emergency policies and functions. Keep in mind that if training is not reinforced, it will be forgotten. Though not required by regulation, it’s a good idea to retrain employees on the EAP annually.
Drill and Review
It’s your responsibility to make sure all of your employees know the EAP and are familiar with evacuation routes, shutdown procedures, and what to do for each potential disaster at your facility.
After you have properly trained employees and reviewed your EAP with them, it’s a smart idea to hold practice drills for possible emergencies as often as is needed to keep employees prepared. These drills can be coordinated with outside emergency personnel, such as fire and law enforcement services.
Following each drill, meet with your upper management staff and evaluate the drills. How well did your drill go? Did all of your employees know what to do when the alarm sounded? Did everyone make it out of the building in a safe and timely manner? How well did your emergency coordinator, evacuation wardens, and emergency team perform? Discuss strengths and weaknesses in your drills, and create a plan for improvements. By planning, training, and using teamwork, you and your employees will be ready when disaster strikes.