An Emergency Action Plan Can Save Your Life

It can be easy to overlook plans for hypothetical scenarios, but when accidents happen, it’s important for everyone to be prepared to handle the situation

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If your crew member was pressure testing a pipe when suddenly the plug was blown out and that worker was thrown from the ladder and became pinned inside a manhole, would you know what to do?

For the crew at Horizontal Boring, that’s not a hypothetical scenario. It happened to one of its crew members and, thankfully, they knew exactly how to handle the situation.

“They had to execute the emergency action plan to remove the injured employee from the manhole, bring him up to safety, get the ambulance and safety manager on site and assess the injury,” says Ernie Romero, owner of the company, based in Phoenix.

As a result, the employee escaped the situation with no more than minor injuries, showing that emergency action plans can be the deciding factor in whether an employee lives or dies on a work site accident.

Drafting a plan

With all the paperwork and red tape attached to every work site, it can be easy to overlook planning for hypothetical emergency situations. But it’s an item that must be crossed off — if not to avoid penalties, then simply for peace of mind.

“That’s the last call you ever want to get — an injury on site,” Romero says. “At times there are sites that may have some varying circumstances that require we implement an emergency action plan.”

Beyond simple best practice, if caught without an emergency action plan, your company will be fined by OSHA. Their safety and health regulations for construction require emergency action plans in writing for each site, which “must cover those designated actions employers and employees must take to ensure employee safety from fire and other emergencies.”

Penalties can range from $10,000 to over $100,000. There are different standards of violation; for example, initial posting requirement violations are listed as $12,934 per violation, but a willful or repeated violation jumps to $129,336 per violation.

OSHA provides information through its website on emergency action plans and requirements, including an eTool to help companies develop their plans.

“It’s typically going to consist of the possible emergencies on any given site, what may happen if that does take place, and then we’ll address actionable steps to follow, and we’d have the written procedures for that,” Romero says. “We’re going to have exit routes — we usually like to set two meeting points for everybody if an emergency takes place, a primary and a secondary, to ensure if the emergency takes place at the primary meet point, then we have the secondary to meet at. Those are really the general points we’re looking to cover in our action plans.”

Emergency action plans can be as in-depth as outlining the specific safety duties of each employee on site, even down to subcontractors involved in the work, as well as safety inspection procedures, accident investigation and reporting.

Taking the lead

The supervisor in charge of setting up the emergency plan will look at what reporting agencies are nearest, as well as the closest hospitals, so workers know who to contact and where to go.

“I think it’s very important to have somebody involved — whoever’s dealing with your safety plans and your emergency action plans — who understands the OSHA requirements, to have a background in safety, and to really understand the requirements and the actions necessary should certain events occur,” Romero says.

Horizontal Boring has a dedicated, full-time safety manager with 30 years’ experience in safety management and a comprehensive safety-first program, ensuring that safety requirements like emergency action plans don’t fall through the cracks.

That manager runs monthly companywide safety meetings, as well as weekly on-site meetings for each specific work site. The company’s overall safety program is constantly evolving.

Preparation pays

Horizontal Boring’s case of its employee who was injured in the blowout is proof that having a plan in case of emergencies can save lives.

“They were prepared for it, and it’s always good to see,” Romero says. “We’re all responsible for safety, all of us out on site, and we take it extremely seriously. Accidents do happen and things happen that are outside of our control; but when it does happen, you just want to ensure that you have the best plans in place and everyone is best prepared to deal with those situations.”


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