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OSHA - Evacuation and Shelter-in-Place

image Joann Natarajan, Compliance Assistance Specialist, OSHA, Austin, TX

AUSTIN - Emergency Evacuation is the immediate and urgent movement of people away from a threat or actual occurrence of a hazard. These threats may include explosions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, hazardous/toxic material releases, radiological and biological accidents, civil disturbances and workplace violence.



    Deciding whether to shelter-in-place or evacuate to safety (i.e., get away from a threat or hazard) is among the most important decisions that must be made during an emergency. Employers should understand and plan for both scenarios.

    Many disasters are no-notice events, meaning that there is no warning before they occur. These types of events do not allow time for people to gather even the most basic necessities. Therefore, pre-planning is critical. Workers may need to be trained to respond differently to different threats. For example, workers may be required to assemble in one area inside the workplace if threatened by a tornado or on an adjacent highway if threatened by a chemical spill. Moreover, a fire may require workers to evacuate to a pre-determined exterior location.

    When developing an emergency action plan, it is important to determine:
    •    Conditions under which an evacuation would be necessary
    •    Conditions under which it may be better to shelter-in-place
    •    A clear chain of command and designation of the person in the workplace authorized to order an evacuation or shutdown
    •    Specific evacuation procedures, including routes and exits
    •    Specific evacuation procedures for workers in buildings (including high-rise buildings)
    •    Specific evacuation procedures and responsibilities for employers in buildings (including high-rise buildings)
    Specific evacuation procedures on construction sites or non-fixed facilities
    •    Procedures for assisting visitors and workers to evacuate
    •    Designation of which, if any, workers will remain after the evacuation alarm to shut down critical operations or perform other duties before evacuating
    •    A means of accounting for workers after an evacuation
    •    Special equipment for workers, such as appropriate respiratory protection

    An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is a written document required by some OSHA standards to help facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies. See https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/evacuation/checklists/eap.html for more assistance in developing an EAP.

    •    Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
    •    Procedures that address special needs workers, such as those that may have physical limitations
    •    Any special actions for evacuation during an active shooter or other dangerous intruder situation

    The emergency evacuation plan should identify the different types of situations that will require an evacuation of the workplace. As mentioned before, these may include explosions; earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters; releases of chemical, radioactive, or biological agents; and civil disturbances and workplace violence. The extent of evacuation may be different for different types of hazards.

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