News & Information Blog

Does Your Emergency Action Plan Fit Your Business?

By Susen Trail | 09/08/2020

While hurricanes have been decreasing in frequency and severity before and since hurricane Katrina the book Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink provides an excellent example of how plans and programs made simply to match accreditation standards, or OSHA standards can turn an emergency into a catastrophe.

The book is about how the Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans had failed to anticipate that a hurricane might cause flooding.  The 273-page document of 20 separate plans, including one for hurricanes and another one for flooding and another one for evacuation of the hospital.  In practice these plans could not be coordinated and, most likely, impeded each other like the three stooges trying to get through a doorway. 

My favorite quote from the book is “Disaster managers were thought of as earnest, basement-dwelling creatures who drew up emergency plans and imposed fire drills that interrupted other people’s work.  Hospital leaders kept their distance.”  Having met many Safety Managers working in basements or glorified closets, as well as having been stashed in a basement office myself, this quote really struck home.

Successful businesses create a forward-looking business plan that includes an assessment of potential financial hazards.  This business plan is reviewed, metrics assigned and assessed frequently to identify adverse conditions at their inception.  As a result there are planned positive activities that can swing into motion to reduce or remove the impact of adverse financial conditions.  You can bet the offices of the people writing the business plans are close to, and frequently visited by, the head of the company’s office.

The same should be true for all of your Safety and Health Plans and Programs.  The OSHA Emergency Action Plan, EAP, standard 1910.138 is a starting point and there are many conditions that are specific to your workplaces that you need to address that the business down the street may not.  This is why downloading an EAP from the website and typing in a few pieces of information fits your business about as well as sending a passer by into a store to buy you a pair of pants.

Before you even look at the standard or a demo Emergency Action Plan sit down and think up every catastrophe that might hit your business.  Basically, let your imagination go wild.

  1. What sources of emergencies exist in your area?
    1. If you are in Hawaii are you in a lava flow path?
    2. If you are in Nebraska, you have tornadoes.
    3. If you are in New Orleans, you have hurricanes and flooding.
    4. Are you near a prison or halfway house, etc.?
    5. What is the response time for local emergency services?
    6. Are you next to an explosive’s factory? Or a place where they have a lot of flammables?
  2. What sort of hazards exist in your facilities?
    1. Are you an explosive’s factory?
    2. Is there welding?
    3. Are large quantities of saw dust or other combustible dusts created?
    4. Are flammable materials used?
    5. Do you have quantities of incompatible chemicals that could be accidentally combined?
    6. Do you have sufficient quantities of toxic or corrosive chemicals that might spill creating a response that requires you to call in outside help to manage?
    7. Do you have equipment or production processes that could create a hazard in a power outage?
  3. What are the conditions in your facilities that need to be addressed?
    1. If your facilities have basements or upper floors do you have procedures for getting differently abled or injured people out?
    2. Are your worst hazards on the way to the exit?
    3. Will your workplace have sufficient light for employees to exit if the power goes out?
    4. What if your tornado shelter can’t fit all your employees, even if they REALLY like each other?
    5. List the critical equipment in the event of an emergency:
      1. Equipment, such as a generator, that would be needed for an emergency exit
      2. Equipment that would create a hazard if not shut down properly
      3. Equipment vital to the business that needs to be shut down properly to avoid property damage

One of the observations in Fink’s book was that the hurricane plan included the assumption that the generators would keep working for 72 hours; however, it had never been tested.  Another common assumption was that those who developed the flood plan did not otice that the generators would be below flood levels.  These are both strong indicators that the plans had either been generic downloads, were poorly written, or had not been compared to real life conditions.

When a business has a properly developed, implemented, and maintained Emergency Action Plan it can reduce injuries, property damage, and loss of production time.

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