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"How to implement effective evacuation plans and handle fire drill training."

October 16, 2009 by Mike Strawbridge

Workplace Safety Tips – Evacuation plans are more than a fire drill

We have all been doing fire drills since we were in grammar school. But in a modern industrial environment there is a lot more to consider than just marching the students down the hall.

In a manufacturing situation there are specific actions that need to be taken by machine operators to shut down the machines safely and minimize the restart expense. And if you are not actually shutting down your machines for a drill, then you don’t know if your procedures actually work.

OSHA and other regulating bodies have various rule about how often evacuation drills are to be practiced. This article in no way supersedes those requirements. This article is designed to give you advice on how to make your actual practice a more valuable experience.

When I worked in a printing facility handling flammable liquids, each employee had specific duties that he was expected to perform on his way out the door in the event of a fire. These duties included things like pressing an emergency stop button, releasing a safety latch to cover flammable liquids or closing a door to a room where flammable liquids were stored.

In a standard evacuation drill, there was no way to observe if every one did their jobs correctly or if they even knew what these jobs were. And practicing these jobs only once or twice a year was ineffective in making sure they were trained the task.

Because it was very expensive to restart the printing presses after any shutdown, we had to minimize the actual machine stoppages as well.

The most effective method we found for training personnel in their evacuation duties was what we called the one at a time fire drill.

About once a month, our fire and emergency procedures team would take a list of employees and arrange with their supervisor to have them lead the trainer through their evacuation duties. The trainer would observe their actions and if necessary take corrective action immediately if they did not follow the written procedure.

If there was a deviation in the actions of the employee form the procedure, the team member determined if training was required or if the procedure need to be modified to match current work practices. Therefore the one at a time fire drill accomplished two valuable purposes - Procedure review and training.

Since the machine was not actually shut down and the work crews not fully evacuated, the cost of this training exercise was minimal. Usually the only cost involved was that of having an extra staff member on hand to fill in for the one being trained.

We found this method of training to be very effective. Many operators who had been in their jobs for several years had never been given the opportunity to actually walk through their fire control duties before we instituted this program. We found several procedures that were unworkable as they interfered with the primary action of evacuating the building.

When executing one at a time fire drill training, be sure to include every one. Even those whose only duty is to get themselves out of the building. Walk with them to the exit so you know they know which one to use.

Also consider lines of progression as an employee may be temporarily promoted to a different job task form time to time. Make sure you arrange to train them on the emergency duties of the temporary advancement position as well as the regular duties.

Another aspect to consider in evacuations and evacuation drills is the event of inclement weather. It does not help to have employees evacuate a building only to die from hypothermia on the outside.

Make sure you have considered the possibility of an evacuation during cold or wet weather. Make arrangements for alternate shelter or protective clothing and practice the use and distribution of such during your actual evacuation drills.

Another very important aspect of evacuations is the accounting of personnel. You must have a quick and accurate method of accounting for all personnel including visitors, vendors and contractors that are on the site during the evacuation. Many modern electronic attendance monitoring systems have made this task even more challenging as you don’t always have a computer print out of who is at work with you during an evacuation.

You must prepare in advance a system that is accessible to supervisors so that they can accurately account for their personnel in the event of an emergency. Overlooking a single person in unacceptable in such an instance. So is the needless endangerment of emergency responders looking for a person who is not really trapped.

Assigning small group supervisors or team leaders the responsibility of tracking their employees and keeping a written record of their presence or absence in the facility is one simple method of handling the accountability issue. Make sure you practice this accountability during your full evacuation drills as well as one on one with he supervisor or team leader.

Evacuation drills are not just a required nuisance. They serve a very important role in responding to an emergency and minimizing your business loss. Through proper planning and training you can minimize the business interruption and restart costs.

Injured workers will significantly delay your restart and impact your future productivity and profitability. Money spent in training planning for an emergency will save your many time the cost in the event of an actual emergency. The one at a time fire drill training procedure can also be used to build familiarity with equipment making your employees even more productive. And, if they feel safe at work, they will be work more effectively as well.

Mike Strawbridge October 16, 2009

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