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How to ensure effective emergency preparedness and response in ISO 45001

Clause 8.2 of ISO 45001:2018 deals with emergency preparedness and response, and is one of the most critical clauses of the standard. Having a defined and efficient process in the event of an incident or accident can be central to ensuring that the effect is mitigated and reduced. Therefore, while preventing incidents and accidents is the primary concern of an OHSMS, responding to them and ensuring an emergency response plan is in place is equally important. So, given that most organizations will have employees and contractors, visitors, partners, and neighbors and will have to call on emergency services in the event of an accident, it is clear that there are many stakeholders to consider and make provisions for if your emergency response plan is to be truly effective. So, where do we begin?

Emergency preparedness – The basics and how to

Firstly, the standard says that each organization “shall establish, implement and maintain a process and later to keep documented information about these processes.” Pretty basic stuff, you may think, but it pays to remember that if your staff and stakeholders are not aware of your emergency plan, and aware of any changes or updates, then it is as good as useless. Therefore, communication becomes very important, as well as the inclusion of training involving this plan and procedure at an employee’s induction, for example. So, what does the emergency response plan need to do? The clause states that the organization needs to identify the potential for emergency situations and respond to them accordingly. Identifying the potential for emergency situations is something we have examined in previous articles (see How to perform risk assessment in ISO 45001), so how do we respond to them? These factors can differ greatly depending on what sector you work in, but let’s consider the types of details we need to ensure are captured in our emergency preparedness plan:

  • Qualified first aid people: who are they, where are they, and is everyone aware of them? These people are likely to be central to lessening the effect of an emergency situation, so the more of them you have, the better. The more quickly and accurately an employee can reach them, the more chance there is of effectively dealing with a potential emergency situation before it escalates.
  • Fire extinguisher and chemical spill kits: are they clearly signposted and are employees informed of any changes?
  • Emergency contact numbers: they need to be clearly outlined in your plan, in the event someone needs to access them swiftly.
  • Evacuation plan: whether in case of fire, chemical spillage, or natural disaster, is everyone aware of the protocol?
  • Employee next of kin details: informing anyone of an accident is an unpleasant task, but it is good practice to ensure that your records are accurate and up to date.
  • Responsibilities and communication: does your plan clearly identify who is responsible for decision making and communicating to any stakeholders in the event of the emergency plan being activated?
  • Return to work process: your plan should indicate who decides when it is safe to go back to work, and that person can then initiate the process whereby investigation, risk assessment, and corrective action can be implemented to drive improvement and prevent reoccurrence.

Again, as we have discussed in previous articles, involving stakeholders in the construction of your emergency preparedness and response plan is a positive thing. Inviting your local fire service, for instance, to participate in your plan construction can give you added expertise and insight into what they deem to be achievable and sensible, thereby lessening the impact should an emergency occur. Likewise, why not invite business partners and contractors to contribute to your emergency plan? You will benefit from the sharing of information, educate your partners, and hopefully construct an emergency plan that is a combination of shared knowledge.

Emergency response and preparedness plan – Is that it?

No, ISO 45001 also requires you to test, review, and improve your plan wherever practical and possible. Therefore, it is necessary to state in your plan how and how often you will test your plan, what methods you use to review that output, and how you improve it. Again, feedback from all stakeholders is very useful here, so don’t hesitate to involve stakeholders in this process to ensure that you get the best possible response and feedback to assist your improvement cycle. Set a schedule to review your plan regularly, and ensure that you consider accidents, incidents, and legislation changes when you do so. If you can encourage stakeholder engagement and feedback, expert advice, and good communication allied to learning from the past, your organization will be well positioned to lessen the impact should an unfortunate situation occur.

To learn more about the emergency response and other requirements in ISO 45001, download this free Clause-by-clause explanation of ISO 45001:2018.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.