Emergencies strike without warning. Fire, gas explosions, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, toxic spills of hazardous materials, environment hazards, workplace violence, terror attacks, chemical spills, radiological accidents, even civil disturbances can cause emergencies for companies. It is not possible to prevent all emergencies as they have wildly varying causes from nature to deliberate acts to even simply accidents in safety sensitive positions that then might have a cascading effect. (Learn more in "Fatigue Management in Night Shift Workers and Employer Risks".)

Being prepared ahead of time can save lives and avoid additional injuries. Almost every employer in the United States is legally required through OSHA to have an emergency action plan (EAP). Schools have fire drills all the time. In the same mindset, employers must have emergency action plan drills since few people can think clearly or logically in time of crisis.

If you don’t have an EAP or you want to compare what you have presently in place, the best place to start is with a safety audit. Here are some questions to keep in mind while evaluating your written action plan while conducting a safety audit of your premises. However, in order to have an effective emergency action plan (or emergency response plan - ERP), you need medical oversight.

What is an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) or Emergency Response Plan (ERP)?

The Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is your first defense against disaster. Training and reviewing with your employees regularly is crucial. Just like a drug and alcohol policy is useless without information being shared, (Learn more in "The Importance of a Good Drug and Alcohol Policy in the Workplace".) your employees must be very familiar with your emergency plan in order for it to be effective.

Different emergencies require different responses. For example, employees shouldn't evacuate to outside during a tornado or hurricane but a mandatory organized evacuation in case of fire might be appropriate.

Planning for emergencies is a process that ensures everyone knows what to do when an emergency actually does happen. This prior planning reduces panic and increases the chances of survival while lowering injuries. Emergency response plans should include not only internal responses and organization and training for employees and on-site medical professionals (such as on-staff first aid nurses), but coordination plans and agreements with community resources and first responders.

Medical Oversight

In times of an emergency there will be certain medical needs that can not be safely provided by a layperson without specialized training or must be provided by a trained medical professional. Untrained personnel attempting certain medical procedures and assistance can cause more harm, and in some cases, cause fatalities. As part of developing your emergency response plan, is vital to preventing further injuries and protecting your employees.

Medical direction can be accomplished through off-line and on-line services.

Off-Line Medical Oversight

Some examples of off-line services are on-site personnel training, testing and certification of providers, in-house protocol development, operational policy and procedures development, medical audit and review of care, continuing education and refresher programs, and protocols on who can provide what level of care to emergency victims. When everyone knows their job in time of crisis, whether it be to evacuate quickly and safely, provide CPR/First Aid/AED, identify persons on your team at the meeting site, or calling 911, further injury and loss of life can be avoided. The best EAP but it will be useless if no one knows about it. Once plans are developed, training by qualified personnel must take place, as must information dissemination to all employees so that they feel confident in trusting those trained for the larger response jobs.

This type of medical oversight is before the emergency oversight. It is the planning phase of dealing with an emergency. Putting protocols in place in your plan and providing training ahead of time so that there are mechanisms in place to contain the chaos an emergency can cause and so that every employee knows what they can and can not do during an emergency. Having designated employees trained in automated external defibrillator (AED) usage, first aid, basic triage, CPR, and other emergency responses can buy time for trained medical professionals to arrive on scene. There are several resources available to train personnel in First Aid and CPR such as local fire departments, The American Red Cross, National Safety Council, Cintas and many others. Keep emergency first aid kits on-hand with the appropriate medical supplies recommended by the medical oversight director.

On-Line Medical Oversight

On-line service would consist of the medical director having direct communication with professional medical responders in an emergency situation. Direction by the medical director is communicated by direct voice communication through radio or telephone or in-person on-sight interactions. All communication must include person-to-person communication of patient status and direct orders to be carried out.

As a responsible employer, it is vital to establish medical and first aid services prior to work emergency situation. Establish a relationship with a local hospital or emergency clinic to insure medical care is readily available when needed. When possible, drills should include these off-site first responders as well as your employees. Depending on what area of the country your organization is in will determine how readily available emergency services are. Keep in mind the chance of recovery and/or survival of a serious injury increases enormously if immediate treatment begins within 3 minutes.