Safe and Effective Evacuation
There are many different situations that may necessitate the need for an evacuation, and it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to implementing a legitimate, working evacuation plan. Evacuation plans should include clear and concise directions and outlined pathways to help employees evacuate work environments safely in the event of either a natural or man-made disaster or emergency.
An evacuation route is the specified route that employees should utilize during an emergency. It is crucial to keep all routes clear and free of debris so if an evacuation situation arises many employees can evacuate easily and without the further risk of trips and falls. According to OSHA, there are three different components to an evacuation route: exit access, exit, and exit discharge.
- Exit Access: This is the part of the evacuation route that leads towards an identified exit.
- Exit: This is the part of the identified exit route that is usually separated from other passageways and is generally “protected” by fire rated materials to enhance safety for an effective exit.
- Exit Discharge: This is the actual exit. The exit should lead to a safe area free from other hazards, this safe area could be a walkway, street, public way or refuge area.
Causes for Evacuation
Emergencies are usually the main reason for evacuations. As stated earlier, emergencies can be either natural or manmade. Some types of emergencies that may elicit the need for an evacuation include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, fires, explosions, tornados, violence, chemical spills, or releases of toxic materials. However, it is important to note that evacuations may be different based upon the situation. For example, employees would not want to evacuate to an outdoor location if a tornado emergency was occurring. Instead, employees should know that during a tornado they would need to stay indoors and report to a specified indoor location for refuge.
Requirements for Evacuation Routes
OSHA provides many guidelines for effective evacuation routes; some components include requirements for maintenance, lighting and marking, guidance for evacuation routes under construction, and employee alarm systems. To understand these guidelines a bit better, let’s review them here:
- Exit routes must be free and unobstructed. No materials or equipment may be placed, either permanently or temporarily, within the exit route. The exit access must not go through a room that can be locked, such as a bathroom, to reach an exit or exit discharge, nor may it lead into a dead-end corridor. Stairs or a ramp must be provided where the exit route is not substantially level [29 CFR 1910.37(a)(3)].
- Each exit route must be adequately lighted so that an employee with normal vision can see along the exit route [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(1)].
- Each exit must be clearly visible and marked by a sign reading “Exit” [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(2)].
- During repairs or alterations, employees must not occupy a workplace unless the exit routes required by this subpart are available and existing fire protections are maintained, or until alternate fire protection is furnished that provides an equivalent level of safety [29 CFR 1910.37(d)(2)].
- Employers must install and maintain an operable employee alarm system that has a distinctive signal to warn employees of fire or other emergencies, unless employees can promptly see or smell a fire or other hazard in time to provide adequate warning to them. The employee alarm system must comply with 29 CFR 1910.165 [29 CFR 1910.37(e)].
Evacuation routes are an essential component to any work environment no matter how big or how small it is. One of the top priorities of any business should include the need for employee safety. Take the time to evaluate your current evacuation routes to make certain that they are up to par and that employees have been trained properly on the specified evacuation procedures. The last thing you want is for employees to panic and not know how to respond during an emergency.
Resource: OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) – www.osha.gov
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