Well organized and practiced Emergency Action Plans help mitigate emergencies and prevent injuries and wrongful deaths in the workplace. In 2015, private employers in the United States reported 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries. This was a rate of 3 cases per 100 workers in the country and represents a decrease of 48,000 over the previous year. However, the number of fatalities increased slightly from 4,821 in 2014 to 4,836 in 2015. These statistics show that while fewer workers are being injured, workplace hazards remain a deadly serious threat. Most importantly, the data highlights the importance of effective Emergency Action Plans (EAP’s).
OSHA requires companies to maintain Emergency Action Plans that address basic workplace safety. EAP’s are required to address methods of reporting fires and emergencies, outline emergency procedures and workplace escape routes, and establish procedures for facility shutdown prior to evacuation. EAP’s must also cover rescue and medical duties and emergency contacts. Additionally, OSHA recommendations suggest that employers establish back up storage of records on or off-site, establish an alternative communications center, and create an internal alarm coding or PA system to notify employees of dangers and the appropriate action to take.
OSHA requires employers with more than 10 employees to store and provide copies of the EAP to employees. Employers with fewer than 10 employees are exempt from this requirement and may convey the information verbally, however, this is not advisable and smaller employers should also maintain and provide physical copies for employees to access and review.
Providing Protection Against Relevant Threats and Risks
Effective EAP’s protect workers against potential threats and dangers inherent to the workplace. These include standard threats such as fires, contact with electrical sources, structural collapse, toxic exposures, and equipment specific dangers. The EAP should also protect workers against threats specific to the region including hurricanes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, etc. It is also advisable that EAP’s address human-caused factors including acts of terrorism, arson, workplace violence, etc. The more elements addressed and prepared for under an EAP, the greater the protection the plan will provide.
Employers are also required to address industry-specific threats in their EAP. This includes employers who handle hazardous materials and employers that operate in high-risk industries including construction, manufacturing, oil/gas, etc. The procedures included in these plans must meet OSHA requirements specific to these industries including procedures for threat containment, evacuation, treatment of injury victims, and record keeping.
Training and Practice are Essential
Employers should regularly train and prepare employees to respond to emergency situations. This training should commence when an employee is onboard and it should be followed up with drills and continued training sessions that address changes to the plan and the introduction of new equipment or procedures.
Training should address specific threats and hazards, the roles of individuals in an emergency, and details regarding notification and communication procedure. It should also cover emergency response procedures including the location and use of emergency equipment, evacuation routes, emergency shutdown procedures, and procedures for accountability.
The most effective EAP’s establish a chain of command for threat response. Assigning individuals to handle specific roles in an emergency reduces confusion and ensures that every required task is conducted and properly coordinated. This improves response time and the effectiveness of the response which can further reduce the risk of injury or death. For example, employers should assign roles for overall responsibility of managing the situation, individuals to respond to the threat such as a fire brigade, people to manage evacuation and meeting locations, individuals responsible for communications with emergency responders, etc.
Systems Maintenance Prevents Injuries and Fatalities
EAP’s are effective at responding to threats and situations when they occur. They govern the reaction of employees and the employer to workplace threats. However, the best way to prevent injuries and fatalities in the workplace is to anticipate and mitigate threats before they occur.
Effective mitigation of threats within the workplace includes properly training employees in the use and function of equipment, maintaining equipment in proper working condition, maintaining structures, and implementing security measures to protect employees from threats from fire, workplace violence, etc. These proactive steps are the most effective methods of reducing workplace injuries and fatalities.
Liability for Deficient EAP’s
Employers in Illinois can be held liable for injuries or fatalities that occur as the result of deficient EAP’s. For example, if an employer fails to implement and train employees in emergency procedures, fails to communicate changes to an EAP, or fails to maintain safety features such as fire alarms, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, exit routes, emergency washout stations, etc., a work injury attorney in Illinois can pursue compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, disfigurement, etc. caused by such failures. Additionally, employers who fail to maintain emergency equipment or otherwise violate OSHA standards may face fines and additional penalties for their negligence.