Worker Safety During Emergencies or Disasters

September is National Preparedness Month and is a perfect time to develop and discuss how to implement a plan to keep workers safe when emergencies or disasters occur in the workplace.

Emergencies and disasters can strike anywhere and at any time bringing workplace injuries and illnesses with them. Employers and workers may be required to deal with an emergency when it is least expected and proper planning before an emergency is necessary to respond effectively.

The best way to protect workers is to expect the unexpected and to carefully develop an emergency action plan to guide everyone in the workplace when immediate action is necessary.

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What is a workplace emergency?

A workplace emergency is a situation that threatens workers, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.

Emergencies may be natural or man-made, and may the following:

  • hurricanes;
  • severe storms & tornadoes,
  • floods;
  • earthquakes;
  • fires;
  • explosions;
  • winter weather;
  • chemical spills or toxic gas releases,
  • radiological accidents,
  • releases of biological agents,
  • civil disturbances;
  • active shooter;
  • workplace violence resulting in bodily harm.

Many types of emergencies can be anticipated in the planning process, which can help employers and workers plan for other unpredictable situations.

Emergency Action Plan (EAP)

An emergency action plan (EAP) is a written document required by particular OSHA standards. [29 CFR 1910.38(a)] The purpose of an EAP is to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies.

Well developed emergency plans and proper employee training (such that employees understand their roles and responsibilities within the plan) will result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less structural damage to the facility during emergencies.

A poorly prepared plan, likely will lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury, and property damage.

To view OSHA’s EAP Checklist, click HERE.

What type of training do workers need?

  • Educate workers about the types of emergencies that may occur and train them in the proper course of action. The size of the workplace and workforce, processes used, materials handled, and the availability of on-site or outside resources will determine the specific training requirements.
  • Ensure that all workers understand the function and elements of the emergency action plan, including types of potential emergencies, reporting procedures, alarm systems, evacuation plans, and shutdown procedures.
  • Discuss any special hazards on site such as flammable materials, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, or water-reactive substances.
  • Identify and communicate to workers specifically who will be in charge during an emergency to minimize confusion.

Topics for worker emergency training:

  • Individual roles and responsibilities;
  • Threats, hazards, and protective actions;
  • Notification, warning, and communications procedures;
  • Means for contacting family members in an emergency;
  • Any special tasks that workers may be called upon to perform during an emergency (if applicable);
  • Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures;
  • Location and use of common emergency equipment;
  • Who is authorized to perform emergency shutdown procedures (if any);
  • First-aid procedures;
  • Protection against bloodborne pathogens (also see the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030);
  • Respiratory protection (also see the Respiratory Protection standards, 29 CFR 1910.134 and 29 CFR 1926.103); and
  • Methods for preventing unauthorized access to the site.

How often to train workers?

Review the plan with all workers and consider requiring annual training on the plan. Also conduct training after:

  • Development of the initial plan;
  • Hiring of new workers;
  • Introduction of new equipment, materials, or processes into the workplace that affect evacuation routes;
  • Reassignment of workers or changing their job duties;
  • Change of layout or design of the facility; and
  • Revision or updating of emergency procedures.

Additional Resources