Every day many of us wake up, travel to work, and spend most of our time focused on our daily work routine. But every so often the unexpected happens. Nobody expects an emergency or disaster, especially one that personally affects them, their employees, and their business. Yet the simple truth is that emergencies and disasters can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere. You and your employees may have to evacuate your premises when you least expect it.
The best way to protect yourself and the business is to expect the unexpected and develop a well-thought-out emergency evacuation plan to guide you when immediate action is required. A workplace emergency is an unforeseen situation that has the potential to threaten you, fellow employees, customers, the public; disrupts or shuts down your operations; or causes physical or environmental damage. Make sure you have tested the evacuation plan, that it works and that everyone understands the plan, as during evacuations there is often chaos and a rush and scramble to get out of the potential danger.
What is an evacuation plan?
An emergency evacuation plan specifies procedures for handling sudden or unexpected situations. Its purpose is to be prepared to:
Prevent fatalities and injuries;
- Reduce damage to buildings, stock, and equipment;
- Protect the environment and the community;
- Accelerate the resumption of normal operations.
What is the difference between an evacuation plan and emergency plan?
An emergency plan is a company’s overall policy indicating what to do in the event of any number of emergencies such as a fire emergency, flood, or even structural. The evacuation plan forms part of the emergency plan and must include a way to alert all employees to evacuate or take other action, and how to report emergencies.
When the emergency arises, your health and safety response team must know what to do and how to lead the evacuation plan and provide calm during the chaos. For them to be confident and proficient in evacuation regulations and by-laws and best evacuation planning practice, they should have completed an accredited evacuation planning training course and practise actual evacuation drills regularly, ideally twice a year.
Pre-planning for any form of emergency is a crucial element of an effective evacuation plan. A successful emergency evacuation plan should consist of the following key features:
- Legal requirements such as municipal or city by-laws;
- Emergency evacuation floor plans;
- Emergency evacuation response personnel;
- Emergency evacuation procedures.
Why an evacuation plan and appointed team members are important
The biggest danger in an emergency is when people panic. But how does one not panic when it is the most natural thing to do? During an emergency, what your staff need are trained and practiced leaders. Most people want to get out of the building as quickly as possible; however, doing so increases the risk of injury and additional property damage. The staff needs a calm, level-headed set of evacuation marshals or leaders who can coordinate essential tasks and oversee an orderly evacuation.
The best emergency plans and procedures include employees in the planning process, specify what employees should do during an emergency, and ensure that the employees receive proper training for emergencies. When employees are included in your planning, encourage them to offer suggestions about potential hazards and worst-case scenarios. After developing the plan, review it with your employees to make sure everyone knows what to do before, during and after an emergency. As an employer you must send nominated employees to the following emergency response positions and training courses:
- First Aid NQF Level 1- First Aider
- Fire Fighting – Fire Warden
- Evacuation Planning – Evacuation Marshal
- Health and Safety Representatives – Role Caller / Headcount
- Health and Safety Supervisor. – Evacuation Coordinator
Key personnel (Emergency Response or H&S Team Personnel) must be appointed to take on various responsibilities in the event of an emergency incident. In small offices, a person can take on more than one position, but all five are still advised as necessary.
Five steps to improve your organisation’s evacuation plan:
- Make sure your evacuation plan clearly informs employees on how to leave the building and where to go to the assembly area point after leaving the building.
- Distribute a written plan to everyone. It is easier to practice because everyone knows their roles, and how they are expected to respond to an emergency. Assumed knowledge of an evacuation or fire plan only invites chaos and disorder as employees begin to panic.
- In most cases, employees panic because they are unsure about what to do in an emergency evacuation. Once panic sets in, they lose the ability to focus, and soon they begin to behave irrationally or dangerously. Make sure the evacuation plan establishes a clear set of guidelines about what employees need to do, and gives them a checklist for each step.
- Mount the evacuation floor plans on the walls across your entire office layout to ensure that all staff and visitors are aware of the evacuation routes in the building, the procedures to follow and the location of the designated assembly area(s).
- Key personnel (Emergency Response or H&S Team Personnel) must be appointed to take on various responsibilities in the event of an emergency incident. In small offices, a person can take on more than one position, but all five are still advised as necessary.
Benefits of a defined routes and designated assembly area meeting places
An evacuation plan clearly informs employees on how to leave the building and also where to go to the assembly area point after leaving the building. Employees can easily drift to different sides of the building, not understanding the hazards and where their chosen assembly area point is. They may also flee to their cars, causing additional chaos and congestion and increasing the scale of the emergency. The plan informs staff were and what route they are expected to follow and where they are expected to gather after the evacuation begins. Staying together after an evacuation is important, because the head counters are able to get an accurate account of everyone who should have left the building, and helps the head counters pass along information to emergency personnel and the evacuation coordinator about how many people are possibly left in the building, and where those people might be located.
Makes it easier to know what to do
A written plan is easier to practice because everyone knows their roles, and how they are expected to respond to an emergency. Assumed knowledge of an evacuation plan only invites chaos and disorder as employees begin to panic.
An evacuation plan keeps employees calm
In most cases, employees panic because they are unsure about what to do in an emergency evacuation. Once panic sets in, they lose the ability to focus, and soon they begin to behave irrationally or dangerously. An evacuation plan establishes a clear set of guidelines about what employees need to do, and gives them a checklist for each step. The progression of steps calms nerves while keeping employees focused on the task at hand: getting to safety.
Keeps visitors safe too
Employees are not the only ones who need to evacuate during a crisis. Vendors, clients, and other visitors also need assistance to make it out of the building safely. A written evacuation plan, with signs marking evacuation routes and evacuation coordinators pointing out and communicating the plan to visitors, decreases the risks visitors face in an emergency, even if they are unfamiliar with the building.
Where to keep the evacuation plan
The evacuation floor plans must be mounted on the walls across your entire office layout to ensure that all staff and visitors are aware of the evacuation route, the procedures to follow and the location of the designated assembly area(s). The evacuation floor plans are normally drawn from the buildings actual architectural AutoCAD layouts and adjusted accordingly to any new building layout alterations. It is so important that all persons, staff, visitors and clients know your building and can find the evacuation plans in an emergency. If they cannot, panic will set in. During a fire, people are in a panic and often do not thinking clearly. Clear signage needs to be used and evacuation marshals must take control and evacuate properly in these situations.
Cool heads and clear plans are often the difference between life and death in an emergency that requires an evacuation. Employers who take the time to thoroughly develop an evacuation plan provide their employees with a safer workplace, and may even save lives.
Is your evacuation plan compliant with the OHS Act of South Africa? Take our Speedy Assessment to find out.
Absolute Health Services (AHS) offer accredited Health and Safety (H&S) training, ensuring that our clients receive current, professional and quality training. All our training instructors are paramedics registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa and have extensive practical operational experience and have specialised in First Aid, Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Firefighting and H&S training. Our training courses contain the latest theoretical course content and extensive practical content and scenario training, thereby ensuring both theoretical and practical exposure.