Planning for workplace emergencies

Learn how to protect your employees and your business in the event of a workplace emergency.

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planning for emergencies
Published: January 11, 2017

By HR360

A workplace emergency is an unforeseen situation that threatens your employees, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down your operations; or causes physical or environmental damage. The best way to protect your business and employees is to expect the unexpected and develop an emergency action plan to guide you when immediate action is necessary — having such a plan is key to preventing a disorganized evacuation or emergency response that could result in confusion, injury, and property damage.

Develop an emergency action plan

Almost every business is required to have an emergency action plan. An emergency action plan covers designated actions employers and employees must take to ensure employee safety. At a minimum, your plan should include the following elements:

  • Means of reporting fires and other emergencies;

  • Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments;

  • Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate;

  • Procedures to account for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed;

  • Rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them; and 

  • Names or job titles of persons who can be contacted for further information or an explanation of their duties under the plan.

Tailor your emergency action plan

It is essential that the emergency action plan developed be site-specific and include information about all potential sources of emergencies. Putting together a comprehensive emergency action plan that deals with issues specific to your worksite involves:

  • Evaluating how employees will respond to different types of emergencies;

  • Taking into account your specific worksite layout, structural features, and emergency systems; and

  • Including a diverse group of representatives (management and employees) in the planning process and meeting frequently to review progress and allocate development tasks.

"It is essential that the emergency action plan developed be site-specific and include information about all potential sources of emergencies."

Engage employees

The commitment and support of all employees is critical to the plan's success in the event of an emergency. The best emergency action plans include employees in the planning process, specify what employees should do during an emergency, and ensure that employees receive proper training for emergencies. When you include your employees in your planning, encourage them to offer suggestions about potential hazards, worst-case scenarios, and proper emergency responses. After you develop the plan, review it with your employees to make sure everyone knows what to do before, during, and after an emergency.

Keep a copy of your emergency action plan in a convenient location where employees can get to it, or provide all employees a copy. (If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally.)

Planning assistance

You can use the online Emergency Action Plan Expert System, available from the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), to help you create a simple emergency action plan for your company. According to OSHA, this basic plan will be adequate for the needs of many small and medium-sized entities, but may not be adequate for large establishments or those with more significant hazards.

(The OSHA Expert System only provides information based on federal requirements. If you are covered by a state OSHA plan, contact your local state OSHA office to learn about any additional requirements). 

Ultimately, well-developed emergency action plans and proper employee training (such that employees understand their roles and responsibilities within the plan) will result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less structural damage to your workplace during emergencies.


HR360 is the award-winning online HR library featuring easy-to-understand guidance on federal and state labor laws and Health Care Reform along with interactive HR tools and hundreds of forms and posters. HR360 also features step-by-step guidance in key HR areas such as hiring, performance reviews, disciplining, and termination. Reviewed and maintained by a team of attorneys, HR360 helps employers nationwide successfully manage their employees while complying with changing employment laws.

The information and materials herein are provided for general information purposes only and are not intended to constitute legal, tax or other advice or opinions on any specific matters and are not intended to replace the advice of a qualified attorney, plan provider or other professional advisor. This information has been taken from sources which we believe to be reliable, but there is no guarantee as to its accuracy.

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