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Office Building Emergency Management and Emergency Action Plans

Posted on Thu, Oct 24, 2013

Modern office buildings are generally considered safe and healthy working environments. However in order to maintain OSHA safety standards, office building management should include a Health, Safety, and Environmental (HSE) program that identifies regulatory requirements, including  site safety and evacuation procedures. Building inspections, safety audits, and evacuation drills, can identify the need for site specific mitigation opportunities and necessary safety training to correct, minimize or eliminate unsafe procedures or processes.

Although each office building exhibits unique geographical and operational hazards, there are commonalities that may need to be addressed through a HSE program.  Common office building health and safety hazards may include, but are limited to:

  • Construction method
  • Ventilation
  • Illumination
  • Noise
  • Physical Layout
  • Exit/Egress
  • Fire Hazards
  • Handling and Storage Hazards
  • Electrical Equipment
  • Ladders, stands, stools
  • Severe weather or naturally occurring events
  • Office tools

A wide variety of emergencies, both manmade and natural, may require an office building to be evacuated or shelter in place. These emergencies may include:

  • Fires, explosions, toxic material releases, radiological and biological accidents, civil disturbances and workplace violence
  • Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes

A disorganized response and evacuation can result in confusion, injury, and/or property damage. To establish a systematic response with a safe and orderly office building evacuation, HSE programs should include an incident or emergency action plan (EAP) and associated employee training.

Some companies own and maintain their office buildings, while other employers lease office space. If the space is leased, building management and employers should create a partnership in a joint effort to promote safety. A well-developed response or EAP is an effective tool to heighten safety awareness measures. For certain employers, regulatory requirements may require a written EAP. According to OSHA, the purpose of an EAP is to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies. In order to customize an office-building plan, employers should:

  • Identify potential hazards features and emergency scenarios
  • Communicate how employees should respond to each identified emergency
  • Customize plan by developing floor plans (or worksite layout)
  • Communicate on-site emergency systems and/or alarms

The OSHA requirement to develop a written EAP or fire prevention plan is based on the number of employees that are physically in a facility at any time of the working day. The regulation states that employers with 10 or fewer employees do not have to create a written emergency action plan. However, employers are still required by OSHA to communicate an EAP to staff. An emergency action plan must communicate the following minimum requirements:

  • Procedures for emergency evacuation, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(2))
  • Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical operations before they evacuate (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(3))
  • Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(4))
  • Procedures to be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(5))
  • Means of reporting fires or other emergencies (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(1))
  • The name or job title of every employee who may be contacted by employees who need more information about the plan or an explanation of their duties under the plan. (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(6))

Job and site-specific emergency response training should be implemented for current employees, new hires, and supervisors. An employer must review the EAP with each employee covered by the plan:

  • When the plan is developed or the employee is assigned initially to a job
  • When the employee's responsibilities under the plan change
  • When the plan is changed

Additionally, the EAP must address alarm system specifications. An employer must have and maintain a working alarm system that utilizes a distinctive signal and complies with the requirements in 29 CFR 1910.165.

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Tags: Training and Exercises, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, Communication Plan, Emergency Action Plan