Emergency Preparedness Plans: A Vital Blueprint for Businesses

Dec 14, 2023 | Business, Smith + Malek

In business, emergency preparedness is not just a good idea; it’s a legal requirement.

OSHA mandates that every business, regardless of size, must have a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan. Your emergency preparedness plan will look different than other businesses because of variables like size, hazardous materials, building structure, and employee accommodations.

Take, for example, the setting of your workplace; in an office or retail setting, emergency preparedness plans may be less complex, especially if there are no hazardous materials on-site and no expectation to perform rescues. However,  businesses dealing with hazardous materials, such as refrigerants or ammonia, require more robust plans due to the increased risk. In healthcare settings, HRSA mandates specific emergency preparedness plans for organizations participating in Medicare/Medicaid, including mock evacuations, and coordination with local, state, and/or tribal authorities.

No matter what type of industry your business falls within, emergency preparedness plans are crucial for the safety of employees, customers, and the business itself.

Key Elements to Include

Emergency preparedness plans are referred to by a host of different names. “Emergency response plans,” “crisis plans,” “evacuation plans,” and “emergency action plans” are all acceptable ways to refer to these types of life-saving documents. OSHA’s requirement extends to every organization, making it mandatory for businesses to devise and implement effective plans. 

Here are six key points to include in every plan:

  1. Protocol for Reporting: Clearly outline the steps employees should take to report emergencies or potential hazards promptly.
  2. Evacuation Policy and Procedure: Establish how employees can safely exit the building.
  3. Emergency Escape Procedures:  Consider developing evacuation plans tailored to specific scenarios, factoring in details such as the presence of fire extinguishers. Be sure to include floor plans, workplace maps, and safe or refuge areas.
  4. Designated Contact Person: Specify a point of contact responsible for disseminating information and coordinating emergency responses.
  5. Rescue Duties: Define roles and responsibilities for employees in terms of rescue operations, ensuring a coordinated and effective response.
  6. Accounting for Employees: Develop procedures for accounting for all employees after an emergency.

We like to see emergency preparedness documents include these details, as well:

  • Identify an alternative operations center that can be used in the event of a fire or explosion. Ideally, the site would be able to support critical IT and communications functions.
  • Identify a secure on- or off-site location to store originals or duplicate copies of accounting records, legal documents, your employees’ emergency contact lists, and other essential records.

Considerations for Your Business

Size – Emergency preparedness plans are only effective if employees know about them. For businesses with less than 10 employees, the details can be communicated orally, but businesses with more than 10 employees must have a written plan, supplemented by oral communication.

Assisting All Employees – You may need to consider how to communicate a disaster to employees who do not speak English or have disabilities. Your plan should include provisions for all individuals during evacuations.

Beyond Natural Disasters – Emergency preparedness plans can be put in place for natural disasters – such as fires, floods, or tornadoes – as well as human-caused disasters like chemical spills or explosions. 

It’s critical for your plan to account for potential threats like civil disturbances or an active shooter. These plans act as a shield, protecting not only employees and customers but also the business itself. 

Tips for the New Year

While there’s no routine requirement for plan updates, their effectiveness hinges on regular reviews and employee awareness. We suggest reviewing and updating emergency preparedness plans annually, ensuring the plan remains relevant and employees stay informed.

Business owners can start this process by utilizing OSHA’s checklist as a guide. Of course, we suggest having legal counsel review the plan to ensure compliance. (Remember, the law sets the minimum standard, so businesses may benefit from exceeding these requirements.)

Emergency preparedness is a cornerstone of responsible business management. Beyond meeting legal obligations, it is a commitment to the safety and well-being of your employees and customers. As we approach 2024, let’s prioritize preparedness and ensure our businesses are resilient in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Visit the Contact Us page to find out how we can help you prepare an emergency plan.