We are still in the midst of one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record and wildfires this year have devastated parts of the West, reminding businesses they need to prepare their operations and employees for all eventualities.
Under regulations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplaces that have more than 10 employees must develop a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to identify and coordinate necessary employer and employee actions when an emergency arises.
OSHA has posted links and recommendations on its website to help employers prepare for hurricanes. The website includes tips about how to create evacuation plans and assemble emergency supply kits. (The Environmental Protection Agency also has provided tips about hurricane preparedness.)
“Ensuring the development of an effective EAP also requires the employer to train employees to understand their roles and responsibilities under the plan,” says the Seyfarth Shaw law firm.
“When conducting this training, the employer must address literacy, language, and cultural barriers to ensure that the training is effective. Employers also must document the training.”
At a minimum, the EAP must include:
- Means of reporting emergencies, such as fires and floods.
- Evacuation procedures and assigned exit routes.
- Procedures to account for all employees following an evacuation.
- Procedures for employees who must attend to critical plant operations before evacuating.
- Rescue and medical duties for employees who are assigned and trained to perform them.
- Names or job titles of people who can be contacted for more information about the plan.
In addition to these required elements, OSHA recommends that employers also consider including the following items in their EAPs:
- Procedures for protecting employees from Covid 19 during the emergency.
- The location of the nearest hospital or emergency medical center.
- Type of alarm system used to notify employees of an emergency.
- Procedures for protecting information including procedures for storing or maintaining critical documents and records.
- The location and permissible uses of protective equipment, such as portable defibrillators, first aid kits, dust masks and fire extinguishers.
- The locations of TVs or radios available for employees to obtain needed information during the unfolding of a disaster.
OSHA’s website also provides a Hurricane eMatrix for hurricane response and recovery work, outlining the most commonly performed duties during that work, and hazards employees can face.
In addition, OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard, applies to employees who are performing clean-ups of hazardous waste or other hazardous materials.
Other, more general requirements also apply, such as OSHA’s welding and cutting Lockout/Tagout, confined space entry and fall protection rules, and even where no OSHA standard exists to address a particular clean-up activity.
Finally – as always is the case — OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.
“Accordingly, even if no OSHA standard applies to a particular activity or hazard, employers may still face citation liability if the hazard is reasonably likely to cause serious injury or death and there is a feasible means of abatement to correct the hazard,” Seyfarth Shaw explains.
“Before allowing employees to commence any kind of clean-up work then, the employer must conduct a job hazard analysis (JHA) to identify and address pote