How Does an Emergency Action Plan Benefit the Workplace?

November 9, 2022

In the face of an emergency, most people react by either fight or flight. But these two options are not always the best options and can even be the wrong options for ensuring the safety of one’s self and of those around them. The following true story illustrates such a situation:

In the event of a fire consuming the storage area of a paint store, there was an employee who was faced with multiple options. He could have helped his employer who was on fire, ran for help, called 9-1-1, or searched for another fire extinguisher. The issue was not in these options but in the confusion that the employee faced in the presence of danger. In this case, the employee decided to try and help the other employee who was on fire and unfortunately perished with him in his efforts to do so.

With an emergency action plan (EAP) in place, employers and employees will know what they need to do in an emergency and avoid the confusion that leads to unnecessary damage, injury, and even death. 

What is an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)?

An emergency action plan is a written document that lists the procedures and instructions for employers and employees to follow in the event of an emergency in their workplace. OSHA standards require every workplace to have an EAP document ready and available. In addition to the EAP, the employer should also be sure to hold training for all employees with their individual responsibilities according to the plan. OSHA requires that an EAP be available at every workplace, in writing, where all employees can review it at any time. Employers within a workplace that have fewer than 10 employees can communicate the EAP verbally as well.

Benefits of Having an Emergency Action Plan

The largest benefit of having an emergency action plan is avoiding the catastrophic consequences that could happen if a workplace does not have one. The most common emergency to occur at any workplace is fire because it is a possibility at any business, both large and small. The consequences of not having an EAP for such emergencies include potential injury, death, and property damage. 

With the proper requirements outlined by OSHA, an EAP can help prevent these consequences and ensure the safety of any person present at the workplace during the time of an emergency. By creating an EAP and committing to the proper training of employers and employees, confusion and disorientation in the presence of an emergency can be easily avoided. This will ensure the safety of all persons in the workplace. 

As well as protecting employers and employees, having an EAP can protect the company and effect survival in the business world. Insurance won’t always cover the damages potentially caused by an emergency situation. This can affect how quickly the company gets back on its feet and resumes attending to its customers and collaborators. Without thought beforehand on expenses and other issues an emergency may cause, the company associated with the workplace may go out of business indefinitely or be given over to a competitor. An EAP will prevent as much damage as possible and should contain a plan for how the company will function after an emergency until it can return to the workplace and continue operations as before. 

Creating an Emergency Action Plan for Your Workplace

The most important part of making an emergency action plan is to make a plan for the specific hazards that can be expected in your given workplace. For example, the most prominent hazard for a welding shop will be the possibility of combustion. Creating an EAP can be as simple as being aware of potential hazards found in the routine inspections such as the accumulation of flammable objects in a particular area or by testing and maintaining machinery in the workplace. 

The structural layout of the workplace is also a vital part of making an EAP. For example, it would be advisable to include floor plans if the building has multiple stories or a complicated layout. It is also required for employers to add emergency alarm systems for each emergency purpose that may occur in the workplace. This will be dependent on the type of emergencies that can be anticipated in the workplace and the environment around the workplace. It is most practical to prepare for the most likely emergencies. 

For example, it would be a higher priority for a workplace in California to create an EAP for the event of an earthquake over the event of a tornado. But in Kansas, it would be more important to consider the possibility of a tornado over that of an earthquake. 

Circumstances may change over time, so the EAP should be regularly updated to accommodate these changes and ensure the utmost safety possible for all personnel. Changes to the floor plan should also be included in the EAP if possible.

Emergency Action Plan Procedures

The employer should have procedures for each employee included in the emergency action plan for the workplace. Every plan is required by OSHA standards to contain certain procedures for the following:

  • Reporting a fire or other emergency
  • Emergency evacuation and exit route assignments
  • Instructions for employees entrusted with staying behind to operate or shut down critical operations before evacuating
  • Accounting for all employees after evacuation
  • Performance of rescue or medical duties
  • Titles of each employee who is entrusted with more information about the EAP and explanations of other employees’ roles under the plan

These procedures should be separated to individual employers or employees to ensure they will be followed in the event of an emergency. These procedures will be more thoroughly outlined in the Emergency Action Plan Training section below. 

Possible Workplace Emergencies

Emergencies other than fire should be considered, which might include natural disasters, such as: 

  • Earthquakes
  • Tornados
  • Flooding
  • Landslides

The nature of the emergency will determine the best course of action to be outlined in the EAP. For example, in the case of a fire, all personnel should be evacuated outside of the building. But in the event of an earthquake, it is more important for all personnel to find sufficient cover from falling debris. Power loss could be another emergency in which evacuation may or may not be necessary depending on the workplace. 

It is possible that there are emergencies that do not require full-scale evacuation of the workplace premises such as an employee or employer who suddenly suffers a stroke or heart attack. Such procedures will be less extensive but employees should be prepared so that the proper emergency medical services can be contacted and arrive in time to aid the injured employer or employee. 

Other possible emergencies that should be included in an EAP are:

  • Active shooter situations
  • Workplace violence
  • Bomb threats

In these cases, it may be necessary to create procedures for employees to either evacuate or hide depending on their proximity to the event. 

Preparing for an Emergency Situation

Maintaining OSHA standards will be the best practice for avoiding emergency situations and should precede creating an EAP. Ensuring that hazardous materials are kept away from sparks and fire is an example of a simple way to avoid an emergency situation. Once a plan has been made employers should do the following to prepare for an emergency situation:

  • Keep the written document in a convenient location in the workplace where all employees can read it. They should familiarize themselves with it at their convenience.
  • Review and share the EAP in verbal meetings regularly.
  • Train and familiarize designated employees in their roles that correspond with the EAP procedures.
  • When it is practical to do so, hold training exercises with the EAP so that all employees can experience how the plan will be executed. It will also allow them to become more familiar with their roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
  • Regularly update the EAP as needed. 

Again, certain procedures and instructions will vary depending on the needs and circumstances of the workplace. The employers and employees should both be aware and prepare according to what their EAP details and necessitates. 

Emergency Action Plan Training

Employers need to train their employees on their individual responsibilities to be carried out in the event of an emergency, as outlined in the emergency action plan. Although there are many individual duties that can be included in an EAP, the employer should ascertain which are necessary for their workplace. Due to the possibility of new employees entering the workplace, training for the EAP must be held regularly to ensure that all employees are prepared in the event of an emergency. 

During Evacuation

Some of these responsibilities that should be included in the training are employees who coordinate the evacuation efforts in the event of an emergency. Employers or employees should be trained to provide the correct guidance so anyone in danger can be moved away from danger to a safe area such as a nearby parking lot or open field. 

Another person should be assigned to call emergency services so that nobody expects one another to do so and possibly delay the arrival of the proper emergency services. There are different emergency services for each situation and a list of the different ones should be included in the written EAP. For example, the number for the fire department will be different from the emergency services required for the handling of chemical spills. Employees should also be familiar with the exact name and address of the company in order to give the precise location to the proper authorities so they can arrive at the correct location in time for the emergency.

Post Evacuation

After the evacuation of the workplace to the safe area has been completed, it is necessary that an employee be accountable for verifying the headcount of all employees. If any employees are not accounted for, alert emergency services when they arrive so that they can conduct a proper search for the missing individuals. 

There may be operations and machinery in a workplace that are essential or necessary and cannot be shut down with every emergency. Certain employees must be designated to stay behind and monitor such operations until it is absolutely necessary that they be evacuated. Some of these operations may need to be shut down before evacuation and certain employees should be trained for such situations.

For more information on general safety training courses for all hazards in your workplace check out online safety training from Safety Provisions, Inc.