AbleToTrain by Willing & Able

A simple guide on workplace disaster preparedness

Planning for emergency situations ahead of time is not only best practice for employers; it could save a life.

It frequently occurs without warning: a tornado warning, a fire, or a chemical or toxic spill. Employers should have emergency and evacuation plans in place, with employees ready to respond, but few do.

Most businesses are unprepared, with the exception of mandatory emergency escape route signs, which few employees even notice. Some have a public address system in place to warn employees of impending danger and the need to evacuate, while others do not. To avoid injury or worse, every company should have an emergency plan and employees who are well versed in how to implement it.

First steps

Strategic plans should be in place for businesses. The first step is to form an emergency planning team, which consists of managers and staff who brainstorm worst-case scenarios, identify potential hazards, and plan to respond and evacuate quickly and safely.

Employers should also develop a written policy that includes rollout awareness and training for all employees. Include the following items:

Emergency notification systems

Whether it’s a public address system, phone calls, or text messages, make sure everyone is included and can be notified at the same time. Ensure that communication with employees with disabilities or who do not speak English is also effective.

We’ve seen how colleges use text messaging to alert students if there is an active shooter on campus. Setting up such an emergency system could be beneficial in many situations for smaller businesses or those with employees in multiple locations.

Chain of command

For example, who, for example, will notify office workers if there is a chemical spill in the plant? Designate people to send out notifications and provide backup in the event that they are unable to do so due to illness or injury.

Evacuation routes

In many cases, your local fire department has already mandated evacuation signage at your establishment. Ensure that your staff is well-versed in evacuation procedures. Your local fire department may be able to assist in training employees on how to safely evacuate in the event of a fire. In the event of an evacuation, a plan will also be required to assist workers with disabilities.

Responder protocols

Safety procedures and protocols should be clearly outlined for those who remain to perform facility shutdown operations, and staff should be thoroughly trained.

Fire extinguishers

It is critical to receive fire extinguisher training. Many local fire departments educate their employees on how to properly use extinguishers. Training for large groups of employees is also provided by private companies.

Post-evacuation protocol

After an evacuation, keep track of the personnel. Plan a designated area for employees to congregate, and take head counts to ensure that everyone arrives safely. This could be critical for fire or emergency personnel, directing them to staff who may still be in danger. Try to account for any non-staff members who may have been on the premises at the time of the incident, such as customers or vendors.

In the event of a medical emergency

Medical emergencies are common in the workplace, and for some, a quick response could mean the difference between life and death. Experts believe that medical issues should be treated within the first three to four minutes. Coworkers may be the first line of defense in an emergency after you’ve called an emergency services number.

  • Make a fully stocked first-aid kit available to employees and ensure they know where it is.

  • CPR classes are available from the Red Cross, your insurance provider, or your local safety council. Request volunteers or identify employees who have already been certified.

  • Is your company equipped with an AED (automated external defibrillator)? They can be costly, but they can save lives. Employees should be trained to use the device safely in addition to having one available.

  • Ensure that employees can recognize the symptoms of a stroke and act quickly to reduce the long-term effects.

Business assets

Don’t forget to protect your company’s operations. Every business, regardless of size, should have an emergency response plan in place. At the very least, the company’s IT infrastructure should have a detailed plan in place, as well as backup servers in other locations (or some form of cloud storage) to ensure that if hard copy documents are destroyed, the company can replicate their records.

A culture of safety

Cultivating a workplace safety culture within your organization is critical to moving closer to your goal of a zero-incidence workplace. A safety culture does not emerge overnight, but with careful planning and analysis, a keen eye for spotting accidents before they occur, and employee participation, you can keep your workplace as accident-free as possible.


An emergency planning team is a good place to start with your emergency preparedness plan. OSHA is also available to provide training and assistance in manufacturing and other industries. How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations, their comprehensive publication for employers, outlines best practices for being prepared for an emerging situation.