Regular Evacuation Drills Are Essential for Workplace Safety

A blurred image of an exit sign in a hallway.

Although workplace safety emergencies – such as the outbreak of a fire, spillage of toxic substances, or extreme weather outside – are not the sort of things we like to think about, these events are still very real possibilities.

Employers must, therefore, ensure emergency preparedness procedures are in place to safeguard their employees. We also recommend you train your employees on the ins and outs of evacuating your work premises. We offer an Evacuation Training for Businesses to help with that.

What Is an Evacuation Drill?

An evacuation drill is a dry run of an emergency where employees must leave a building swiftly, which is used to prepare people to evacuate in case of an actual event.

Once everyone is at the designated assembly point, group leaders can assess and debrief how well the drill went. Reflecting on what worked and what did not allows everyone concerned to identify potentially lethal mistakes, where to improve, and how.

A group of people standing on steps after the fire drill has started

The Need for Evacuation Drills

Why are evacuation drills important?

Emergency evacuation drills are intended to prepare employees for scenarios where conditions inside the building are hazardous to human health or life.

However, workers may not know where the nearest exit is without proper training and practice drills in a genuine emergency. Their response may also be confused or overly slow.

Employers must hold practice drills to prepare employees for real situations and determine their readiness level. For example, when the fire alarm system sounds a warning, following a fire drill gets everyone out of the building as quickly as possible.

Does OSHA Require Evacuation Drills?

OSHA does not explicitly require evacuation drills. However, OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.38(a) describes what is required of a written Emergency Action Plan, which is mandatory.

OSHA also does not stipulate how often to practice getting out of buildings. Still, they recommend using them as an integral part of training employees on how to respond to emergencies.

Types of Emergency Drills

Emergency drills differ based on the hazard they are designed to protect against.

Emergency Evacuation Drills

Training gets building occupants used to the procedures for leaving the building quickly. It keeps the location of the nearest exits fresh in their minds and results in swift, orderly evacuation procedures.

Certain toxic substances are so harmful to humans that their spillage inside buildings creates an environmental health hazard. Building occupants need training to evacuate and ensure their safety in such situations.

You should train employees regarding escape routes and exit points to escape buildings and clearly post this information inside for people to follow in an emergency.

Whether evacuation or shelter-in-place is the correct strategy for the emergency, workers must know where to assemble outside (or inside) the buildings where they work.

An image of a person running away from a fire exit sign.

Fire Drills

Because of how rapidly smoke and fire can spread and the devastating effect they have, fire drills are vital. A fire drill should get employees prepared for any scenario where smoke detectors are activated or the fire alarm sounds.

Fire drills inculcate preparedness for situations where the fire alarm system is activated. Employees must act swiftly following an alarm activation. Creating a fire evacuation plan should be done immediately if your business doesn’t already have one in place.

Fire codes generally require that building occupants conduct fire drills at least once annually. Be aware of what your local fire code says regarding storing firefighting equipment and fire protection.

Shelter-in-Place Drills

In contrast to building evacuation drills, shelter-in-place drills allow for training employees regarding scenarios where the danger lies outside the building.

A nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) terrorist attack would render the outside environment hazardous or deadly to humans. Extreme weather events such as tornadoes, hailstorms, or hurricanes also necessitate a shelter-in-place response.

Active Shooter Drills

Schools hold high densities of people and have seen a disturbing increase in active shooter incidents.

Too often, educational institutions have no plan in place for such scenarios. It is vital to conduct drills to ensure the safety of staff and students.

Whether to evacuate or shelter in place may come down to where the shooter is and whether they are acting alone.

We also have an article covering the best practices for conducting evacuation drills, and you should also check that out.

A stairway with a fire coming out of it.

Why Emergency Evacuation Drills Must Leverage Outside Resources

Whether the emergency in your building is a fire or an active shooter incident, it is essential to use outside resources such as the local fire, emergency medicine, and police departments.

These outside resources complement a safety drill in protecting employees by neutralizing the hazard or treating injured ones.

Why Is It Important to Have Emergency Drills Every Month?

It is not necessary to practice evacuating the building every month. A training drill that is repeated too often can result in employees becoming jaded. You do not want people to think a real emergency is just another drill.

On the other hand, practicing fairly often has the advantage that building occupants know what to do. This also allows everyone involved to assess their response in an emergency and how to improve it.

OSHA recommends conducting an emergency evacuation drill every three to six months, depending on your particular workplace conditions and safety risks.

A blurred image of an exit sign in a hallway.

Planned vs. Surprise Drills

As management, you can choose between springing a drill on your employees (so that they believe that it is a real emergency) or announcing that you are about to conduct a drill.

The former benefits building occupants by allowing them to assess whether they responded well enough to avert harm in an actual situation.

The latter helps train workers inside buildings in new and potentially confusing evacuation procedures.

Why an Emergency Action Plan Is Essential: Final Thoughts

Workplaces are often the site of emergencies that range from heart attacks to extreme weather events. It is critical to have a plan in place for all anticipated emergencies.

Employees must know how to report emergencies, the protocols and routes for emergency evacuation, and how to account for all building occupants after such an evacuation.

Such a plan is a legal requirement and ensures that employees know how to get out in an emergency inside the building.

Emergency action plans protect employees, ensure a safe and orderly workplace, and save lives during unforeseen disasters.