Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Emergency Action Plans: A Winning Solution

November 10, 2011

You have workers in your building, spread across your campus and travelling between sites.

Wherever and whenever, all of your workers need to know how to handle sudden emergencies — quickly and correctly.

Far too often, afterhours, weekend, offsite and contract workers get injured or seriously ill, suddenly abandoning duty posts as they "wing it" through ambulance trips and hospital emergency rooms.

The consequence is incurring costly liability to unaware managers.

The answer is your emergency action plan (EAP).

Inspector Radar

Business preparedness is now a looming sight on the "radar" of federal, state and local inspectors, especially after the devastating Midwest floods, Southwestern wildfires and, now, year-round terrorism.

As a result, businesses large and small need something short and sweet that their workers can quickly grasp and easily understand — especially in today''s diverse workforces.

Your staff may speak many foreign languages, and some supervisors are stone-faced and not motivated enough to address language barriers.

Some operations experience excessive turnover rates exacerbating the communication issue.

Many work on tight project deadlines, both hourly and daily, making emergency preparedness an afterthought.

What Governs Your Workers?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has many overlapping standards that oftentimes confuse managers.

For emergency action planning, five OSHA standards usually govern your workers:

  1. Emergency Action Plan (1910.38)
  2. Fire Prevention Plan (1910.39)
  3. First Aid (1910.151)
  4. Employee Alarm System (1910.165)
  5. Hazard Communication (1910.1200).
A classic example of emergency action planning is elementary school fire drills.

The plan instructed the teachers to evacuate the students from the classroom and the building, escort them through the hallways to designated fire exits, assemble at a predetermined outdoor site and conduct a headcount of the evacuated students.

But, that''s just one aspect, as your EAP is a blanket, all-hazards plan.

Handling Workplace Emergencies

If a bell rings, a horn blares, a siren wails, a red light revolves, a white strobe light flashes or an amber light blinks, do your workers know what that means and what they are supposed to do?

When the fire alarm activates, do your workers secure their chemicals, tools and carts, then grab the nearest fire extinguishers?

Do other workers act as "floor wardens" to evacuate affected areas?

Do other workers find the "special needs" staff and escort them to safe areas like fire exit landings?

When someone screams "Help!" do your workers grab the nearest first aid kit and automated external defibrillator (AED)?

What happens if your designated responders are away — on a meal break, out receiving training, attending a meeting, on vacation, etc. — when the emergency occurs?

Who substitutes as designated responders, are said substitutes trained and, if so, how often do they practice these emergency roles?

Flashlights, first aid kits, AEDs and fire extinguishers all need regular checking; they are not installable forgettables.

Contents and tags expire, batteries corrode, bulbs burn out and alcohol pads dry out.

Inspectors quickly find these shortcomings and then discard them, costing your company or organization time and money.

Check all emergency equipment monthly and document the action.

You can use the template grid contained in the "In Case Of An Emergency" sidebar to list your emergency tasks and contacts.

Find a photocopier and then shrink the grid down to business card size.

Savvy businesses use laminated double-sided business cards because they fit into wallets and easily clip behind photo identification cards.

Lamination protects these cards from dirty hands, outside weather and even wear and tear.

Laminated cards provide Red Cross disaster responders information regarding emergency equipment locations, access codes and contact names/numbers.

If you have workers at multiple buildings or sites, it is best to issue one unique card per location because there are likely different alarms, emergency equipment and contact numbers.

Competency Testing

You need to demonstrate and document that your workers actually know how to perform emergency procedures.

Again, you can use the template grid contained in the sidebar to help practice those emergency steps with your workers.

This should be done when new workers are hired and whenever equipment or procedures change.

Spend about 15 minutes to practice those emergency skills during orientation.

Have them "walk the walk," find the equipment to use in emergencies, demonstrate to you how to use it or else shut it down, where to escort others to safe areas, etc.

On your checklist, mark your initials and the date when your workers satisfactorily demonstrate each emergency task.

Keep the original sheets in a training folder and make a copy for the personnel file of each trainee.

In Summation

An EAP identifies common workplace hazards and what should be done in the case of an emergency.

You can easily produce a checklist that is quickly understood by your workers by using wallet-sized business cards.

Use the checklist to practice the emergency procedures with your workers and document their skill competency by initialing and dating the successful completion of each emergency procedure.

Do this when the new worker arrives and whenever equipment or procedures are changed.

Keep the documentation filed away — either in hardcopy or in an electronic format — to ensure thorough recordkeeping.

Simple procedures will build worker confidence, ensure your preparation for sudden notice inspections and help defend your business during workers'' compensation claims and client lawsuits.

A thorough emergency action plan is something we hope to never need.

However, being prepared in the undesirable instance something unforeseen does occur is a winning solution.


Donald White is the director of safety and security for the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute. A 19-year veteran, White is a board-certified health care safety professional (CHSP), hazard control manager (CHCM), health care emergency professional (CHEP), NFPA Fire Instructor-III, Virginia Emergency Medical Technician (EMT/B) and American Red Cross Disaster Instructor. White has perfected his craft at airports, hotels, hospitals, jails, fire stations, command centers, apartment complexes and office buildings during the past 39 years. He can be reached at Donald.White@DBHDS.Virginia.gov.