Most of us have experienced “the talk”—the one at the beginning of every flight. The flight attendants drone on about how to buckle your seatbelt, where the exits are, how to put on the oxygen mask if the cabin loses pressure and, let’s not forget, where your life vest is and how to put it on in the unlikely event of a water landing.
An individual may have heard this message numerous times—so many times, in fact, that he or she does not really listen to the message closely anymore. So why do airlines continue to give the same old tired message?
The main reason in the U.S. is that it is federal law. Similarly, in the work place, companies give their own tired talk: “In the unlikely event of a sight evacuation we will meet at the assembly point,” and in an emergency, “we will do a head count,” are just some examples heard on job sites everywhere because it is federal law.
So why do employers believe this message is getting out to their workforce? Is the workforce ready to respond and remember the information that its employers have provided in its prework training? Chances are the answer to this question is no. So how does a company develop an emergency action plan that is appropriate for the job and will be known and used by its employees in the event of an actual emergency?
MAKING IT COUNT
Most site emergency action plans are amorphous. They are cut and paste remnants from previous plans, filler that often offers little or no detail in the plan. The more words, the better and more extensive the plan is often the thought. But plans often miss the mark, and the message that comes out sounds like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoon. Good plans require not only words, but training to reinforce the message.
In primary school, children were drilled incessantly on the fire plan at least every 30 days. When the alarm rang, they stood up, pushed their chairs in, got into a line and then the teacher marched them out to the muster point and called out their names to verify that they were all there. Through their school career, this played out many times. The response was almost automatic. Emergency actions became normal; there was no panic, no chaos, and that was by design.
The school knew that the more “normal” it made the event, the more likely it was to achieve the desired result. Similarly, if employers want to achieve the desired result on the job site, they should be drilling their plan at least one time on short jobs and at every 30 days minimum on long-term jobs. The more an employer drills, the better prepared his or her site and employees will be, and the desired results will be achieved in the different aspects of the job site’s emergency action plan (EAP).
An EAP should capture all the possible emergency actions you could be exposed to on the site. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a standard that lists the minimum material that must be in the plan and how and when it must be trained. The standard can be found at 29 CFR§ 1926.35 and outlines the following minimum elements:
- emergency escape procedures and emergency escape route assignments;
- procedures to be followed by an employee who remains to operate critical plant operations before that person evacuates;
- procedures to account for all employees after emergency evacuation has been completed;
- rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them;
- the preferred means of reporting fires and other emergencies;
- names or regular job titles of persons or departments who can be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan;
- alarm system;
- evacuation; and
Each of these elements is required to be covered in every EAP and contain site specifics. Employee names or job positions should be provided for all positions listed in the EAP. It is also a best practice to name back up personnel for each position.
The alarm system chosen to be used should be tested and verified that all employees in the work place can hear and identify the alarm signal in all areas of the job site. The evacuation route should be clearly marked and labeled in all languages spoken on the project. The evacuation routes should also be displayed prominently in the work area to allow workers to familiarize themselves with the route. As mentioned before, the drilling and training of the EAP is crucial to the success of the plan.
Along with all the minimum elements required, a contact list that provides the method for contacting emergency services should be available. In most areas of the U.S., dialing 911 will get you in contact with these services; however, there are still areas that are not covered by the 911 system. It is important to verify that this system is available in and around the area of the project.
The contact list also should list the site address to assist the reporting employee. The address and phone numbers also should be listed on the contact sheet, as well as a map to the nearest hospital. Make sure the route to the hospital is verified by driving the route and assuring the hospital has emergency services. If the plan preparer used an internet search engine to find the hospital, that hospital may be a mental health facility, geriatric care or a hospice facility.
TOOLS TO HELP
After the plan has covered the minimum elements, a site evaluation should be conducted so the EAP may provide guidance for other types of emergency situations. Severe weather like hurricanes and tornados are not prevalent in all areas of the U.S., so it is important to prepare a plan for these situations if your job site is in a region where these events are possible.
Shelters may need to be erected on-site for employee protection. An earthquakes is another natural phenomenon that requires planning and training. In addition to natural events, a shelter-in-place plan may be necessary based on the possible release of toxins on the job site or from a nearby facility.
Preparation for active shooter situations is another plan that is becoming more common. All additional plans need to be drilled and practiced as part of a comprehensive training plan to ensure that employees covered know what to do and do not add to the victim count.
This e-tool walks employers through the process of plan development through an organized step by step process of fill in the blanks and answering questions. It will produce a bare bones plan. Like all OSHA tools, it only covers the minimum standards, but it jumpstarts the process of producing a complete plan. It can also provide a good process check of existing plans to identify gaps and omissions.
Looking at an EAP with fresh eyes for every project will improve the overall quality. Drilling the plan will expose additional problems that may not have been considered in the original draft. EAPs should be revised regularly to reflect the deficiencies or improvements noted in drills.
So next time you are getting “the talk,” stop reading your email and listen to the instructions. It just may save your life in the “unlikely event of …”