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The different types of workplace emergencies and how to manage them

When an emergency happens at work, seconds can frequently mean the difference between more paperwork and danger to one’s life. Because it’s impossible to know when you’ll have to act in an emergency, it’s important to know the different kinds of emergencies that can happen and the steps you should take to handle them.

What qualifies as a workplace emergency?

Workplace emergencies can take many different shapes. Some possible emergencies may be industry and work environment specific, but others will be more global, posing a risk to all workplaces. Understanding the types of emergencies that may arise in your workplace is the first step toward being able to plan for and train for their occurrence.

A workplace emergency is defined as an event that endangers your staff, clients, or the general public; disrupts your workplace operations; or causes damage. Emergencies can be many different things, but most of the time they fall into one of three categories: natural, work-related, and external.

Natural emergencies

Natural disasters are the most difficult to plan for and foresee because of their very nature. Flooding, severe weather such as hurricanes or tornadoes, or forest fires can all cause natural disasters. When planning for natural disasters, keep in mind that they are unlikely to be limited to your business, which could impair logistical responses.

Emergency situations at work

These are the most common types of workplace crises, and they are triggered by circumstances directly related to the task performed. Chemical spills, explosions, industrial malfunctions, or toxic gas releases are examples of work-related emergencies.

Civil emergencies

This third category of workplace emergencies is caused by civil issues. These catastrophes are likely to be less common than work-related or natural disasters, but that does not make them any less important. Protests, strikes, or workplace violence or harassment, whether employee-to-employee or client-to-employee, are examples of civil factors.

Regardless of the type of emergency that occurs in your workplace, it is critical to be prepared so that the impact on your employees, customers, and business is as minimal as possible. Even the most level-headed people may find it hard to make decisions during a crisis. This is why it is important and legally required to have a well-thought-out emergency plan that clearly explains the steps and actions to be taken.

How to handle emergencies in the workplace

A well-thought-out strategy is the best way to prepare for an emergency and minimize harm. But, exactly, what should an emergency response strategy look like?

The first step in developing a plan is to consider the worst-case situations that could occur in your company. Natural and civil emergencies will largely affect all workplaces (although the responses may differ). The more difficult element is assessing emergencies that may arise as a result of variables directly related to the task you undertake.

A previous risk assessment that identifies the hazards and strategies to reduce them in the workplace is a solid starting point. But emergency plans should take into account unknown risks that could lead to a situation of emergency.The strategy should be personalized to your specific workplace because each work environment will have various dangers that could lead to emergencies as well as different practical issues when dealing with them. Workplace emergency plans aren’t one-size-fits-all, but they should all have the same basic components.

Emergency response personnel

A number of selected emergency response personnel, their specified duties, and backup personnel in the event that the principal appointees are unavailable should be listed in the plan. Certain responsibilities, such as fire safety and medical support, will be in charge of certain emergency responders. Depending on the risks in the workplace, they may also include people who have been trained to do things like handle, control, and clean up poisonous or dangerous chemical spills.

Emergency equipment

It is critical to be able to respond swiftly to situations in order to limit harm. The details and locations of any emergency equipment should be clearly recorded for the benefit of both the company’s emergency response teams and emergency service employees. AEDs, fire extinguishers, chemical containment devices, machinery controls/shutoffs, and water main access points should all be noted in this section.

Procedures for evacuation

Any evacuation methods that may be required during an emergency should be detailed in the plan. This component of the plan should contain emergency exit instructions, the position of stairs to avoid lifts, and the location of rally sites where employees should meet after being evacuated to avoid interference with emergency personnel and allow for easy head counts.


Another key component of the strategy should include information on the alarms that will sound during an emergency, what they mean, and what staff should do. Employees will be expected to evacuate in the event of a fire, but in the event of a machinery malfunction, they may be required to lock down their area and remain in position to prevent further injury.

Additional Features

While it is not legally required, it is a good idea to include information in the plan about a location for rendezvous and communication during an emergency away from the office, as well as a location where essential papers and data are backed-up. It can also be beneficial to have a point of contact for employees to get updates in the hours and days following the incident, such as if they should return to work.