AbleToTrain by Willing & Able

Protective measures for life safety

When there is a hazard within a building, such as a fire or chemical spill, occupants should be evacuated or relocated to safety. Other incidents, such as a bomb threat or the receipt of a suspicious package, may necessitate evacuation as well.

If a tornado warning is issued, everyone should be relocated to the strongest part of the structure and away from exterior glass. If a traffic accident on a nearby highway causes the release of a chemical cloud, the fire department may issue a “shelter-in-place” warning. To protect employees from a violent act, the word “lockdown” should be broadcast, and everyone should hide or barricade themselves against the perpetrator.

Among the life-saving precautionary measures are:

  • Evacuation;

  • Sheltering;

  • Shelter-In-Place;

  • Lockdown.

These precautions should be part of your emergency plan. If you are a tenant in a multi-tenanted building, work with the building manager to plan your move.


Employees must be evacuated as soon as possible, which necessitates the installation of a warning system that can be heard throughout the building. Test your fire alarm system to ensure that all employees can hear it.

If there is no fire alarm system, use a public address system, air horns, or other means to notify everyone that they must evacuate. During planned drills, play the evacuation signal to familiarize employees with the sound.

Ensure that there are enough exits available at all times. Check that every floor of every building has at least two exits from hazardous areas. Larger buildings may require more exits due to building or fire codes.

Walk around the building to ensure that exits are clearly marked with exit signs and that there is enough lighting to allow people to safely exit. If you discover anything that is impeding an exit, have it removed.

Enter each stairwell, walk down the stairs, and open the outside exit door. Continue walking until you reach a safe location outside the building. Consider using this safe zone as a meeting place for evacuees.

Appoint an evacuation team leader and assign employees to direct the building’s evacuation. At least one person should be assigned to each floor to act as a “floor warden,” directing employees to the nearest safe exit. If the floor warden is not available or if the floor is very large, assign a backup.

Inquire if employees require any special assistance in evacuating or moving to a safe location. During an emergency, assign a “buddy” or aide to assist people with disabilities. Contact the fire department to devise an evacuation plan for people with disabilities.

Maintain a visitor log and a list of employees at the front desk, reception area, or main office area. When the building is evacuated, assign someone to take the lists to the assembly area. Use the lists to account for everyone and notify the fire department if everyone has been found.

OSHA regulations require an accounting when employees are evacuated from a building to ensure that everyone has gotten out safely. Because a fire, chemical spill, or other hazard may obstruct an exit, ensure that the evacuation team can direct employees to a safe alternate exit.


If a tornado warning is issued, an audible warning signal should be issued, and everyone should seek shelter in the strongest part of the building. Basements or interior rooms made of reinforced masonry may be included in shelters.

Evaluate potential shelters and run a drill to see if shelter space can accommodate all employees. Early warning is critical because there may be little time to seek shelter when a tornado approaches.

If there is a severe thunderstorm, keep an eye on news sources in case a tornado warning is issued. Consider purchasing an emergency alert system radio, which can be found at most electronics stores. Listen to local radio and television stations for weather warnings. Subscriptions to free text and email warnings are available from a variety of news and weather websites on the Internet.


A tanker truck collides with a nearby highway, causing a chemical cloud to be released. A massive column of black smoke billows into the air from a nearby manufacturing plant fire. If an explosion or terrorist act occurs as part of this event, public safety officials may order people in the area to “shelter in place.”

You should devise a plan for evacuating to a safe location. The plan should include a method to alert everyone to move away from windows and into the building’s core. Warn anyone working outside to enter the building as soon as possible.

In a multistory building, move everyone to the second and higher floors. Avoid taking up residence in the basement. Close all exterior doors and windows, and turn off the building’s air conditioning system. Keep everyone safe until public officials announce that it is safe to evacuate the building.


An act of workplace violence could occur without warning. Every employee should be aware that if loud “pops” are heard and gunfire is suspected, they should hide and remain silent. They should take refuge in a room, close and lock the door, and barricade the door if possible. They should be taught to hide under a desk, in a corner, and away from the door or windows. A lockdown warning should be broadcast by multiple people from a safe location.