Why should you have an evacuation plan
by OH&S – Leo van der Walt
The difference between emergency plans and evacuation plans is mainly the following:
- Emergency plans are broader and include not only immediate physical threats, but wider issues relating to the organisation’s operations and the ways that the business will deal with those major threats.
- An emergency plan covers the overall policy and procedures in the event of any number of emergencies such as a fire, structural damage, threats (including bomb threats or other threats), or natural disasters.
- An evacuation plan is the specific plan or set of instructions on how to evacuate a building and/or an area.
The ‘unforeseen’ part of emergencies can be mitigated by having evacuation plans that have the following characteristics:
- They are well planned by an interdisciplinary team that can give inputs about a range of potential dangers, as well as about possible solutions to specific problems.
- They enjoy the full support of owners and top management.
- Accountability and responsibilities for action during an evacuation is clear, and it is also made clear that their instructions have to be followed. The person directing or leading people out of a building is possibly – and even likely – not to be the top manager.
- They address all relevant legal requirements and regulations.
- They are regularly tested via drills – and all employees (from the most senior to the most junior) and other people present at the time of the drill(s) are required to participate.
- They are detailed enough to cover all possible events.
- They include all relevant important details: evacuation floor plans, clear and simple evacuation procedures and clear indications and clothing or other indications to mark responsible personnel.
- They also take care of the ‘small’ things. Plans account for anything that ‘could’ happen and ways to ensure that, for instance, evacuation routes are kept clear of furniture and other obstacles that could impede progress. They ensure that plans will work in the dark. They also ensure that, among others, people with physical disabilities or the elderly or small children can be helped. They also include consideration to actions such as specific machinery and vehicles to be switched off, or emergency alternatives for key operations requiring human interaction, etc. The latter could, for instance become very important in farming operations.
- The location of relevant siren switches, as well as keys and safety equipment is widely known, not only to a few individuals. It cannot always be accurately predicted who will be present at the time of an emergency. Therefore 24-hour awareness and alert individuals and deputies can make the difference between chaos and ordered procedures being followed.
- They are regularly updated to account for any changes in working procedures, renovations/changes to buildings etc.
- Relevant materials (including sirens or other sounding equipment), implements and exit doors are regularly tested and these tests are formally noted and signed off as part of specific individuals’ accountabilities. Employees are informed in advance about relevant tests (e.g. testing sirens) to avoid panic.
- The importance of evacuation plans is made clear to new employees. They are alerted about relevant procedures as part of their introduction to their new workplace.
- They are supported with relevant signage that takes into consideration e.g. evacuation at night or alternative routes, should ‘normal’ evacuation routes be blocked. Text should be clear, short and easy to read.
- They are clearly communicated to all staff as well as service providers such as security organisations, building contractors and others.
- Implementation of evacuation plans are included in health and safety plans. Equipment such as firefighting equipment and first-aid kits should be situated in areas where it makes sense in the case of evacuations.
- All responsible staff are appropriately trained.
- Any changes in the procedures are clearly communicated to the entire workforce and regular service providers. Reminders about safety and evacuation in case of emergencies appear from time to time in relevant communication (using among other e-mails, newsletters, meeting agendas).
- Responsibility for the implementation of an evacuation plan is transferred during holiday periods, weekends or other absence(s) of those primarily responsible for leadership during evacuations. The names of deputised staff is communicated to all staff – especially receptionists, safety, security and maintenance staff.
- Drills take place regularly – ideally at least twice a year. Designated routes for evacuation should be permanently and clearly marked.
Contact Leo van der Walt of Beehive OH&S and his staff to discuss your specific requirements at 072 594 5989, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.beehiveohs.co.za.
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