5 top fire & emergency evacuation planning tips

1. Know exactly what an emergency evacuation procedure is

A wide variety of emergencies can require that a workplace be evacuated, and it is essential that you have a good Emergency Evacuation Plan in place. Evacuation Plans facilitate and organise both employer and employee actions during workplace evacuations.

Evacuation plans are a way to record and share information on evacuation procedures, escape routes, critical procedures, a clear chain of command, the people responsible for various duties, accounting for all employees, and your reporting methods.

A disorganised evacuation can result in confusion, injury to staff, and property damage. It should be clearly agreed what conditions would make an evacuation necessary, and the evacuation plan for your workplace should take into account the need for extra information like:

  • Emergency conditions which may mean it is better to shelter-in-place (i.e. earthquake, bomb threat)
  • Specific evacuation procedures for high-rise buildings using staged evacuation
  • Procedures for ensuring that visitors, people with disabilities, and anyone who does not speak English is safely evacuated
  • Whether specific employees will remain after the evacuation alarm to shut down critical operations or perform other duties before evacuating
  • Any special equipment required for employees

An Evacuation Plan can only work effectively if the content is relevant, employees are knowledgeable about the plan, and wardens are thoroughly trained before an actual emergency occurs.

2. Implement safety training for staff

For an evacuation procedure to run smoothly, your organisation will need responsible, trained individuals to supervise and coordinate the action taken. Talk to Safety First about training your people to run safe and orderly emergency evacuations.

3. Delegate clear authority in a workplace emergency

It is critical that your employees know who the Chief Warden is and understand that this person has the authority to make decisions during emergencies. When emergency officials arrive at a workplace emergency, they assume the authority to make decisions.

4. Ensure regular emergency evacuation drills take place

Practice drills are legal requirements, and also are essential to ensure everyone knows what to do in a workplace emergency. Your employees must be familiar with your emergency evacuation plan. Ensure your fire wardens have the right safety training, and your staff are correctly inducted. Following each evacuation, evaluate the effectiveness of the drill, and look for ways that staff can improve on it.

5. Know what you are responsible for in an emergency evacuation

These lists below are from the NZ Department of Labour checklist. Talk to a Safety First consultant about creating your organisation’s specific emergency evacuation procedure.

What should employers do when an emergency occurs?

  • Sound appropriate alarms and instruct employees to leave the building immediately
  • Notify, police, firefighters or other appropriate emergency personnel
  • Ensure staff understand that they must not take food, drink or carry bulky items out of the building during an evacuation

Employee Responsibilities

  • Be familiar with the work site's emergency evacuation plan
  • Know the pathway to at least two alternative exits from every room/area at the workplace
  • Recognise the sound/signalling method of the fire/evacuation alarms
  • Know who to contact in an emergency and how to contact them
  • Know how many desks or cubicles are between your workstation and two of the nearest exits so you can escape in the dark if necessary
  • Know where the fire/evacuation alarms are located and how to use them
  • Report damaged or malfunction safety systems and back-up systems

As with any planning, the key to great emergency evacuation procedures is preparation!