As discussed in previous blogs, despite the best efforts and full cooperation of employees, it is impossible to expect and prevent every accident or emergency from ever happening – in life or at work. Part of good planning and sound policies to protect the health and safety of workers in the workplace, is to have an emergency evacuation plan and procedure in place to remove workers from the danger as quickly and safely as possible.

Workplace emergencies are unforeseen situations that caries a potential threat to any or all employees, customers, or members of the public in the work environment at the time they occur and disrupts or shuts down operations. Such emergencies may cause physical or environmental damage. Emergency evacuation plans and procedures are only useful if they are successfully tested prior to an emergency, and all employees understand and have been trained in the procedures.

The purpose of emergency evacuation plans is to be prepared to handle sudden and unexpected situations to:

  • Prevent injuries and/or fatalities
  • Reduce damage to buildings, stock, and equipment
  • Protect the community
  • Enable a speedy return to normal operations

When an emergency arises, the Safety Officers must know what to do, lead the evacuation, prevent chaos, and help maintain calmness among the evacuating employees. In order for them to have the confidence to achieve this, they need to be proficient in the evacuation regulations and best evacuation practise, and they should have completed an accredited evacuation planning training course and as well as practise actual evacuation drills regularly, ideally twice a year. It is recommended to not run evacuation drills too often, as this may cause a latency in response among employees who may deem the emergency evacuation as “just another exercise” rather than the real emergency that triggered the alarm.

A successful evacuation plan should contain the following:

  • The legal requirements such as municipal or city by-laws
  • Emergency evacuation routes mapped on floor plans
  • Safety Offices and emergency evacuation response personnel
  • Emergency evacuation procedures

The plan should clearly inform employees how to leave the building as well as where the assembly points are after leaving the building. The most likely to succeed emergency plans and procedures are created by including employees in the planning process – listening to the people who move in the working environment every day offer valuable insights into possible hazards and bottle-neck situations. It is crucial to the successful evacuation of any workplace that employees are familiar with the plan and procedure as it helps to keep them calm.

The biggest danger in any emergency is when people panic, and employees may panic if they are unsure about what to do in an emergency evacuation. The emergency evacuation plan must provide clear steps employees should follow during the evacuation. The progression of steps keeps employees focussed on the tasks needed to safely exit the building while promoting calmness.

The evacuation floor plans must be displayed on the walls throughout the entire workplace to ensure that all employees (and visitors) are aware of the evacuation routes, the procedures to follow and the location of the designated assembly areas. Clear emergency evacuation signage must be posted at all the relevant points along the routes and exits.