According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the number of declared major disasters nearly doubled in the 1990s compared to the previous decade. This increase brings into focus the need and benefits of being prepared. But the DHS is not alone in its concern and call for preparedness. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations that require employers to prepare emergency plans.

Although a number of regulations require emergency preparedness, the basic regulation for construction is 1926.35 Employee Emergency Action Plans and the General Industry 1910.38 Emergency Action Plans. These standards require all employers to have an emergency action plan (EAP). A written document is needed for any company with more than 10 employees. A well-developed plan should result in fewer and less severe injuries to employees and less potential structural damage to a facility during an emergency situa-tion. Of course, if the employees aren’t well trained and don’t fully understand the EAP, even the best plan will fail.

At the very minimum, an EAP is required to include the following:

• Means of reporting fires and other emergencies

• Evacuation procedures and escape route assignments

• Procedures to be followed by employees that are to remain to continue operating critical plant operations before they evacuate

• Methods to account for all employees after an evacuation is completed

• Rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them

• Names or job titles of people that can be contacted for more information about the plan

While some prewritten EAPs exist and may be sufficient for certain settings, employers need to evaluate potential emergencies in their operations, ensure employee safety with a step-by-step approach and better manage the task.

Step 1: Designate a responsible person

An EAP coordinator must be selected to lead any possible evacuations. Employees must know who the coordinator is and that the person has the authority to make decisions during emergencies. The coordinator will be responsible for assessing a situation and determining the best course of action—evacuate or shelter in place—and when to notify emergency officials and shut down operations of a work site. Emergency officials, such as police or firefighters, that respond to an emergency at the workplace, assume responsibility for the safety of the building and its occupants, relieving the coordinator. The coordinator is responsible for writing the original plan and periodically reviewing it to ensure it is current and practical. It is important that the coordinator review any training requirements and ensure all em-ployees, including new hires, have received the training.

Step 2: Coordinate the plan

Once the plan is written and approved, the coordinator should contact whomever is responsible for maintaining the building and other employers in the building or on the job site. This is to ensure plans are integrated. All contractors working at a construction site should have their own EAP. During the preconstruction meetings, all trades should to share their plans to maintain safety at the site.

Step 3: Reporting procedures

All potential emergencies that could occur at your workplace or job site need to be listed as well as how employees are to report the inci-dent. The list will vary, depending on many factors. Once the potential emergencies are identified, the coordinator must determine the best way for employees to report each emergency.

Step 4: Designate exit routes

Any location in a facility or job site where employees are likely to be found must have its own exit route to be used in an emergency. It is desired, but not necessary, to have two designated exit routes from every work space. Unfortunately, this is not always feasible. Once the exits and exit routes are identified, they need to be mapped and posted in each work area. The EAP also must identify an assembly area far enough from the building or job site that employees won’t be exposed to danger or interfere with the activities of emergency person-nel. An assigned area will make accounting for all employees much easier.

Step 5: Employee training

Employees must be educated about the types of emergencies that may occur and trained in the proper course of action. Training re-quirements are determined by factors, such as workplace and work force size, materials handled and the availability of both on-site and outside resources, such as fire, police and EMTs. Training must include all employees at the site. OSHA strongly advises all employees be retrained annually.

Although writing a thorough EAP can be an arduous task, the benefits to both employer and employee are many. Once the plan is in place and the employees are trained, it is a good idea to have periodic drills. This will keep the plan fresh in their minds and allow it to proceed more smoothly when needed. Also, it will reinforce the importance of safety for employees on a regular basis.

KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or dkelly@intecweb.com. Joe O’Connor edited this article.