Workplace emergencies can happen at any time and any place. That’s why it’s important for business owners to prepare for an emergency before it happens, when they can think clearly and effectively. Natural disasters and equipment malfunctions are among the common types of emergencies that employers must be ready to address at any given moment.
The Occupational Safety and Hazard Act (OSHA) requires employers to maintain a workplace environment that does not have any potential hazards that may lead to significant physical harm or death. This is referred to as the General Duty Clause and can be found in section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
While it’s not required, it is advised that all companies have an emergency action plan in place. An emergency action plan provides employees and employers with instructions on how to proceed in the event of a workplace emergency.
An emergency action plan should cover all potential hazards that could arise in your specific business. When required, it must include all of the following:
- A recommended method for reporting emergencies
- Contact information for internal and external individuals to use in case of emergency, and an outline of roles and responsibilities during emergency procedures
- An evacuation plan
- Emergency escape routes, maps and outside meeting places
- Instructions for employees who must perform essential duties before evacuating the premises
- Rescue and medical requirements for particular personnel
Though the following items are not required by OSHA, it is recommended that your emergency action plan also contain:
- Processes for accounting for all employees following an evacuation
- A backup communications plan
- A designated location to hold original versions or copies of vital records, documents and employee contact information
Be sure to check if your state also has specific requirements for complying with safety and health regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Section 18, recommends that states have individual workplace safety programs; some states, including California, New York and New Jersey, have statewide workplace regulations that can be stricter than or complement federal requirements.
There are also particular health and safety requirements that govern targeted industries. These fields include general industries like wholesale and retail stores, construction and healthcare. Reference materials for Spanish-speaking employees are available as well. If your business operates within one of these fields, be sure to remain compliant with OSHA’s industry-specific regulations.
For all other businesses, you should review the following list to ensure that you are compliant with OSHA’s workplace requirements:
- If your workplace houses machinery, account for OSHA’s machine guarding requirements.
- If equipment at your business could unexpectedly start or release harmful energy (e.g. electricity, steam, chemical, etc.), follow OSHA’s lockout/tagout conditions.
- Businesses that work directly with electricity should consult OSHA’s electrical requirements.
- Follow any personal protective equipment (PPE) regulations, which are required by a number of industries, by performing regular analyses of your workplace.
- If respirators are required for your business, be sure to have the appropriate ones on site and follow the guidelines outlined by OSHA for respiratory protection.
- If noise is an issue at your workplace (i.e. where listening to a normal conversation at normal volume would be difficult), then you may need to provide a hearing conservation program.
- Employers should review their workplace environments to check and account for any OSHA-defined confined spaces.
- If employees are regularly working with blood or bodily fluids on the job, then you may need to provide a bloodborne pathogens and needlestick prevention program.
- If employees typically work with powered industrial trucks, such as forklifts, then you may be required to implement standards outlined by OSHA’s powered industrial trucks guidelines.
Some industry-specific workplaces may also be subject to training requirements, which can be used as a guideline for other employers as well. Depending upon your workplace conditions, you may additionally need to record, report and post information regarding employee injuries and medical situations. Employers with more than 10 employees, or those outside of the retail, service, finance, insurance or real estate fields must undergo recordkeeping for employee injury and illness. With respect to reporting requirements, all businesses must report any deaths that occur and any hospitalizations for three or more workers. All businesses must also display the OSHA poster, or a state equivalent, in a conspicuous position in the workplace. Lastly, business owners are required to provide employees, designated individuals and OSHA with availability to workers’ exposure and medical records. Exposure records must be cataloged for 30 years, while medical records need to be maintained throughout the employee’s time with the organization, followed by 30 years.
Workplace safety is a major concern for everyone. Be sure to comply with all requirements set out by OSHA at the federal level and any relevant regulations at the state and local levels. Following these laws will ensure that you and your employees are well-protected during any emergency situation.
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