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Planning for Workplace Emergencies & Evacuations

April 2, 2021
June 21, 2023
Green emergency fire exit sign or fire escape with the doorway

Every year there seems to be more frequent natural disasters and other emergencies affecting our country. In fact, according to recent estimates, we have seen a tenfold increase in the number of natural disasters since the 1960s. The Ecological Threat Register (ETR) reveals an increase from 39 incidents in 1960 to 396 in 2019. The continuous threat of global climate change is predicted to only continue to increase the frequency and intensity of mega storms, devastating wildfires, and other natural disasters.

On top of the threat of natural disasters, human-caused emergencies also are on the rise. Mass shootings, terrorism events, and other acts of random violence continue to be a palpable threat we all face. From hurricanes to tornadoes to stray bullets, planning for emergencies should be a priority for everyone.

In the specific case of businesses, developing an intricate detailed plan for workplace emergencies and evacuations is not only a good way to protect your employees and customers, but it is also mandated by law.

In this short article, we will take a look at why businesses of all sizes need to implement a workplace emergency and evacuation plan. We then look at the specific legal requirements governing workplace emergencies and evacuations.

Workplace Fire Evacuation Procedures

When it comes to workplace emergencies, fire is possibly the greatest threat. Fires in commercial settings are easily the most common workplace emergency, with well over 100,000 fires occurring annually. While the frequency of fires in businesses has actually decreased slightly over the last few decades, the cost of property damage due to these fires has skyrocketed.

According to one recent estimate, commercial property fires cost owners over 2.4 billion dollars per year.

Though restaurants and other places where cooking occurs are certainly at risk for fire-related emergencies, The National Fire Protection Association states that “more than one in every four office property fires (29%) was caused by cooking equipment, but these fires accounted for just 6% of the direct property damage experienced by office properties. Fires that were intentionally set caused the largest share of direct property damage (20%), while causing 10% of office property fires. Electrical distribution and lighting equipment was the second leading cause of office property fires (12%) of fires, while causing 15% of direct property damage.”

In all commercial settings, however, over half (52%) of larger fires occur in buildings without smoke detectors present or functioning. Having operable smoke detectors is one of the most important elements to help reduce the risk associated with fire emergencies. Also, incorporating a fire alarm procedure for the workplace must be a priority.

Fire evacuation procedures in the workplace should include these steps: 

  • Activate the fire alarm as soon as fire is noticed
  • Call 911 immediately and provide information
  • Evacuate the building following emergency maps and emergency evacuation map
  • Ensure all personnel are out of the building and out of harm’s way
  • Assist physically impaired individuals to a secure area and notify emergency responders as needed
  • Assist injured employees or customers

Emergency Evacuation Procedures in the Workplace

Besides fires, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) states that floods are another common cause of evacuations. Other man-made and natural disasters that may require a workplace to be evacuated include explosions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, hazardous/toxic material releases, radiological and biological accidents, civil disturbances, and workplace violence.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), every business with over 10 employees is required by law to have an emergency action plan written, kept in the workplace, and available to employees for review.

This emergency action plan needs to take into account the different, potential emergencies mentioned above, identify safe places for shelter, and categorize evacuation routes should the need arise.

Furthermore, an emergency action plan for the workplace needs to classify the type of evacuation and exit route assignments, the procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical operations before they evacuate, and protocols to account for all employees after evacuation. The plan should include assigned roles for performing rescue or medical duties before professionals arrive at the scene, and the correct protocols for reporting fires or other emergencies.

You can read a more detailed account of how to prepare a thorough workplace emergency and evacuation plan here.

Be Prepared For Anything With Work-Fit

Another great strategy to ensure that your business is best prepared for any workplace emergency is to hire a third-party contractor that can help your company develop the best protocols and plans for your given line of business. Work-Fit is a leading onsite injury prevention and management company specializing in wellness programs for your workforce.

Our workplace injury prevention and injury management programs are great resources to help you best prepare for OSHA compliance associated with workplace emergency and evacuation plans. Contact Work-Fit today to get started on developing your workplace emergency plans!


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