If you are running a business, undertaking or a not for profit you need to ensure your business/undertaking has an emergency plan in place.

The plan needs to cover the types of emergencies that reasonably could occur in your workplace.  The most common ones are fire and earthquake.  The plans in place for these can be quite simple and include such things as calling 111 for fire, how to evacuate, checking everyone is out, where to assemble, use of firefighting equipment etc.  With earthquakes it could include drop cover and hold, waiting for the all clear, use of rescue equipment, how to evacuate if required, where to assemble, calling 111 to report injuries etc.

Emergency plans for other sorts of events may be a bit more complicated and of course depend on the type of industry you are in and the likely hazards/emergencies you may face.  The emergency plan for a major chemical spill will require a lot more technical input than dealing with an angry customer. The layout of your business premises may be an important part of your plan. Are work areas to be kept separate from public areas? How will staff be protected from a customer or intruder? Do you need counters, security screens, panic buttons etc. It will all depend on the risks that might happen in your business. These risks will not always be external so your plan needs to also cover what happens if the threat comes from an internal source e.g. another staff member.

The Health & Safety law is not just about safety. The health part is just as important. This is not just health issues from things like chemicals but also from things like stress from over work or from bad behaviour such as bullying.

You need to consider what could happen.  That is identify the hazard or risk.  You then need to eliminate that risk, if practicable to do so.  If you can’t eliminate then you must minimise the risk and that is where the emergency plan plays its role.

Decide what the response should be, who needs to be notified, who makes decisions, what those decisions have to be around etc.

You should engage with your staff in identifying the risks and in coming up with the emergency plan.  These are compulsory requirements under the Health and Safety at Work Act and very helpful in getting extra eyes on the issues around the workplace.

Once the plan is in place you need to ensure that all staff are aware of the plan and what they need to do.  Training and practices (like a fire drill) are important parts of ensuring staff know what to do.

You need to make sure plans are kept up to date and remain relevant.  Regularly review the plan (with staff engagement). Do not draft the plan and introduce it with great fanfare and back slapping only to file it away never to be looked at again.  Get it out and put it into action. Test to ensure it is known and followed. Only then is the plan any use when the emergency does strike.

Alan Knowsley