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How to respond to 9 common workplace emergencies

[fa icon="calendar"] 5/26/16 9:00 AM / by SAMTRAC


By its very nature, no one can predict an emergency. But you can prepare for one. Employers need to take the time ensure they have the training and planning in place to effectively respond to an emergency. An emergency is defined as any unforeseen crisis that demands an immediate response.

Emergencies in the workplace can include:

  • a disruption of work
  • harm to employees or customers
  • damage to materials, equipment, or facilities.
This blog will examine how to respond to nine of the most common types of emergencies.


1. Earthquakes

During an earthquake, at work people will be at the greatest risk from collapsing ceilings, windows, light fixtures, and other falling objects.

Here’s what to do:

  • If you are indoors, stay there.
  • Take cover under sturdy furniture, or brace yourself against an inside wall.
  • Do not use elevators. If you have to evacuate the building, use stairways to leave the workplace.
  • Stay away from objects that could fall.
  • Protect your head and neck.
  • Be ready to rescue people who may fall victim to the earthquake – professional responders may not be able to respond. Remove victims to a triage area if possible.



2. Explosions

If your workplace handles, stores, or processes flammable gases, liquids, and solids it is vulnerable to explosions. These will occur with no warning, and often cause disorganisation and panic.

Here’s what to do:

  • Try to communicate with emergency-scene coordinators.
  • Administer first aid if you have assessed that it is safe to do so.
  • Estimate human injuries and casualties.
  • Assess damage to the workplace.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • Evacuate the workplace, following your company’s established procedures.


3. Fire

If you need to, invite a local fire department representative to the workplace to help identify fire hazards and to discuss how you and your colleagues should respond to a fire in the workplace. It is the by-products of fire – smoke and fire gases – that kill. Quickly evacuating in an orderly manner is the most effective response to an out-of-control fire.

Here’s what to do:

  • Pull the fire alarm (or set off the predetermined signal).
  • Call the emergency responders. Tell the dispatcher/operator your location and the nature of the emergency.
  • Inform an emergency-scene coordinator.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • Only allow trained responders to use fire extinguishers.

 If emergency scene coordinators or other employees are permitted to use fire extinguishers, they will be properly trained in their use. 


4. Release of hazardous substances

Hazardous substances are any substances dangerous to your health:

  • Solvents
  • Pesticides
  • Paints
  • Petroleum products
  • Heavy metals


Even if your workplace does not use hazardous substances, it is possible for it to be affected by a nearby release or an accident on a local freeway. If this is a possibility, your emergency action plan must describe how the scene commander and coordinators will respond, and notify the fire and police departments.


Here’s what to do:

  • Inform the emergency-scene commander.
  • Evacuate the area surrounding the release.
  • Call the emergency responders. Tell the dispatcher/operator your location and the nature of the emergency.


If your workplace uses hazardous chemicals, you are required to:

  • inventory the chemicals
  • keep the manufacturer-supplied material safety data sheets (MSDS)
  • label the chemical containers
  • train your employees to protect themselves from the hazards of the chemicals.


If your employees must wear personal protective equipment during an emergency (chemical suits, gloves, hoods, boots, or respirators), make sure the equipment is available when they need it, that it fits them, and that they know how to use it.



5. Medical emergencies

The most likely workplace emergency is a medical emergency. A serious medical emergency, such as cardiac arrest, will require immediate attention, and your response time is critical. It’s essential that the medical first responders know how to perform first aid/CPR.

Here’s what to do:

  • Call emergency responders. Tell the dispatcher/operator the location and the nature of the emergency.
  • Do not move the victim unless it is necessary to save their life.
  • Notify an emergency-scene coordinator for CPR or other first-aid tasks.
  • Inform the emergency scene-commander.
  • Assist professional medical responders when they arrive.
  • Inform the victim’s supervisor, who will notify their next of kin.





6. A weather-related event

Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and floods can all cause workplace emergencies. Many communities experience floods following spring rain. Winter storms often bring strong winds, freezing rain, and snow that can cause structural damage and power outages.

Here’s what to do:

  • Wait for instructions from the emergency-scene commander. Remember that a power failure could slow communication.
  • Tune a battery-powered radio to a station that broadcasts local news.
  • Do not evacuate the workplace unless you have been ordered to do so.



 7. Threats of violence

A threat of violence may come in many forms:

  • Face-to-face
  • By fax
  • E-mail
  • Phone
  • In writing


A threat can be directed toward the workplace or toward a specific person. Police departments, mental health professionals, and employee-assistance programme counsellors offer prevention information, security inspections, and employee training that will help reduce the risk of workplace violence.

Here’s what to do:

  • Inform an emergency-scene coordinator.
  • Activate a silent alarm, if appropriate, and if your workplace has one.
  • Isolate the threatening person if it’s possible to do so safely.
  • Inform the emergency-scene commander.


8. Bomb threats

Take all bomb threats seriously. Although these threats are rare, they deserve your complete attention if you receive them.

Here’s what to do:

  • Do not use fire alarms or phones in the building—they generate radio waves that could trigger a bomb.
  • If someone finds a package that may contain/be a bomb, the person should note its size, shape, and whether it emits a sound, and then notify the emergency-scene commander.
  • Call emergency responders from outside the building to report the emergency and determine if an evacuation is necessary.
  • Use a communication method that does not generate radio waves to order the evacuation.
  • Consider offering threat-management training to emergency-scene coordinators, and if appropriate, members of quick-response teams.


9. Terrorism

Although terrorist acts pose minimal risks to most workplaces, the devastating effects of recent acts have changed the perception of a ‘secure workplace’. Terrorism has also added a new dimension to emergency planning. What distinguishes terrorist acts is the use of threats and violence to intimidate or coerce.

Factors to keep in mind

Every company is different. Therefore, each company will assume a different amount of risk when it comes to potential acts of violence or terrorist attacks. Consider various factors to create the most effective emergency action plan possible. Ask yourself these two important questions:

How do others perceive the company’s mission, in terms of:

  • political activities
  • business activities
  • economic activities
  • social responsibilities?


How vulnerable to terrorist attack are the following critical resources:

  • Production machinery and equipment
  • Mail and HVAC systems
  • Electronic communication, power, data, and systems hardware
  • Real estate and other physical property
  • Finance and administrative transactions


Adapted from this great piece from Safety Services Company.

Topics: Emergencies in the Workplace



SAMTRAC International is the leading occupational health, safety and environment (HSE) management e-learning training course that provides students with the foundational and fundamental knowledge critical to occupational HSE management.

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