A definite plan to deal with major emergencies is an important element of OH&S programs.
Besides the major benefit of providing guidance during an emergency, developing the plan has other advantages. You may discover unrecognized hazardous conditions that would aggravate an emergency situation and you can work to eliminate them. The planning process may bring to light deficiencies, such as the lack of resources (equipment, trained personnel, supplies), or items that can be rectified before an emergency occurs. In addition an emergency plan promotes safety awareness and shows the organization's commitment to the safety of workers.
The lack of an emergency plan could lead to severe losses such as multiple casualties and possible financial collapse of the organization.
An attitude of "it can't happen here" may be present. People may not be willing to take the time and effort to examine the problem. However, emergency planning is an important part of company operation.
Since emergencies will occur, preplanning is necessary to prevent possible disaster. An urgent need for rapid decisions, shortage of time, and lack of resources and trained personnel can lead to chaos during an emergency. Time and circumstances in an emergency mean that normal channels of authority and communication cannot be relied upon to function routinely. The stress of the situation can lead to poor judgement resulting in severe losses.
An emergency plan specifies procedures for handling sudden unexpected situations. The objective is to reduce the possible consequences of the emergency by:
You should also consider potential impact to the environment, and to the community in your emergency plan.
Development of the plan begins with a vulnerability assessment. This results of the study will show:
From this analysis, appropriate emergency procedures can be established.
At the planning stage, it is important that several groups be asked to participate. Among these groups, the joint occupational health and safety committee can provide valuable input and a means of wider worker involvement. Appropriate municipal officials should also be consulted since control may be exercised by the local government in major emergencies and additional resources may be available. Communication, training and periodic drills will ensure adequate performance if the plan must be carried out.
Although emergencies by definition are sudden events, their occurrence can be predicted with some degree of certainty. The first step is to find which hazards pose a threat to any specific enterprise.
When a list of hazards is made, records of past incidents and occupational experience are not the only sources of valuable information. Since major emergencies are rare events, knowledge of both technological (chemical or physical) and natural hazards can be broadened by consulting with fire departments, insurance companies, engineering consultants, and government departments.
Areas where flammables, explosives, or chemicals are used or stored should be considered as the most likely place for a technological hazard emergency to occur. Examples of these hazards are:
The risk from natural hazards is not the same across Canada but the list would include:
The possibility of one event triggering others must be considered. An explosion may start a fire and cause structural failure while an earthquake might initiate all the events noted in the list of chemical and physical hazards.
Having identified the hazards, the possible major impacts of each should be itemized, such as:
Based on these events, the required actions are determined. For example:
The final consideration is a list and the location of resources needed:
The emergency plan includes
Since a sizable document will likely result, the plan should provide staff members with written instructions about their particular emergency duties.
The following are examples of the parts of an emergency plan. These elements may not cover every situation in every workplace but serve they are provided as a general guideline when writing a workplace specific plan:
The objective is a brief summary of the purpose of the plan; that is, to reduce human injury and damage to property in an emergency. It also specifies those staff members who may put the plan into action. The objective identifies clearly who these staff members are since the normal chain of command cannot always be available on short notice. At least one of them must be on the site at all times when the premises are occupied. The extent of authority of these personnel must be clearly indicated.
One individual should be appointed and trained to act as Emergency Co-ordinator as well as a "back-up" co-ordinator. However, personnel on the site during an emergency are key in ensuring that prompt and efficient action is taken to minimize loss. In some cases it may be possible to recall off-duty employees to help but the critical initial decisions usually must be made immediately.
Specific duties, responsibilities, authority, and resources must be clearly defined. Among the responsibilities that must be assigned are:
This list of responsibilities should be completed using the previously developed summary of countermeasures for each emergency situation. In organizations operating on reduced staff during some shifts, some personnel must assume extra responsibilities during emergencies. Sufficient alternates for each responsible position must be named to ensure that someone with authority is available onsite at all times.
External organizations that may be available to assist (with varying response times) include:
These organizations should be contacted in the planning stages to discuss each of their roles during an emergency. Mutual aid with other industrial facilities in the area should be explored.
Pre-planned coordination is necessary to avoid conflicting responsibilities. For example, the police, fire department, ambulance service, rescue squad, company fire brigade, and the first aid team may be on the scene simultaneously. A pre-determined chain of command in such a situation is required to avoid organizational difficulties. Under certain circumstances, an outside agency may assume command.
Possible problems in communication have been mentioned in several contexts. Efforts should be made to seek alternate means of communication during an emergency, especially between key personnel such as overall commander, on-scene commander, engineering, fire brigade, medical, rescue, and outside agencies. Depending on the size of the organization and physical layout of the premises, it may be advisable to plan for an emergency control centre with alternate communication facilities. All personnel with alerting or reporting responsibilities must be provided with a current list of telephone numbers and addresses of those people they may have to contact.
Many factors determine what procedures are needed in an emergency, such as
Common elements to be considered in all emergencies include pre-emergency preparation and provisions for alerting and evacuating staff, handling casualties, and for containing of the emergency.
Natural hazards, such as floods or severe storms, often provide prior warning. The plan should take advantage of such warnings with, for example, instructions on sand bagging, removal of equipment to needed locations, providing alternate sources of power, light or water, extra equipment, and relocation of personnel with special skills. Phased states of alert allow such measures to be initiated in an orderly manner.
The evacuation order is of greatest importance in alerting staff. To avoid confusion, only one type of signal should be used for the evacuation order. Commonly used for this purpose are sirens, fire bells, whistles, flashing lights, paging system announcements, or word-of-mouth in noisy environments. The all-clear signal is less important since time is not such an urgent concern.
The following are "musts":
Completing a comprehensive plan for handling emergencies is a major step toward preventing disasters. However, it is difficult to predict all of the problems that may happen unless the plan is tested. Exercises and drills may be conducted to practice all or critical portions (such as evacuation) of the plan. A thorough and immediate review after each exercise, drill, or after an actual emergency will point out areas that require improvement. Knowledge of individual responsibilities can be evaluated through paper tests or interviews.
The plan should be revised when shortcomings have become known, and should be reviewed at least annually. Changes in plant infrastructure, processes, materials used, and key personnel are occasions for updating the plan.
It should be stressed that provision must be made for the training of both individuals and teams, if they are expected to perform adequately in an emergency. An annual full-scale exercise will help in maintaining a high level of proficiency.
Document last updated on May 25, 2005