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5 elements to consider when testing your organization’s health & safety emergency response procedure

The OHSAS 18001 standard was designed and is used for the prevention of accidents in the workplace, but unfortunately, as we all know, accidents do sometimes happen for various reasons. It therefore stands to reason that the standard has a clause stating the requirement of having an emergency response process, and recommending that it be tested on a regular basis. So, given that this is mandatory, how should you go about testing your emergency response plan – and critically, what benefits and improvements can you derive from this process?

How to test your emergency response plan

It is good practice to test your emergency plan “periodically,” as advised by the standard, and the frequency of your tests will probably be determined by the sector you operate in, the number of people involved, the amount of planning required, and the time the actual rehearsal takes. You will also have to consider the wishes of your top management team, as they will need to have input and be involved, and secondly, the cost and time taken to complete this type of testing can be considerable to your organization. Therefore, when it comes to the issue of how to test your plan, there are certain elements you should consider:

  1. Consultation and expertise: Have you consulted your staff to ensure that your plan is effective? Employees generally have the best knowledge of processes, and therefore hazard and risk. Make sure your employees are consulted both when your emergency response plan is established, and also when your plan is tested, and the overall process will benefit, along with employee morale.
  2. Stakeholder input: Have your stakeholders been properly considered? Whether contractors, partners, or shareholders, it is vital that all parties are considered during the testing of an emergency response plan. Involving contractors, for example, may give you extra input into your response plan, and even informing shareholders of the existence of a process to test your emergency plan may help shareholder confidence. Does your plan affect neighbors or the local community? You will need to consider all these needs if your emergency response plan testing is to be effective.
  3. Communication: Has the communication element of your testing been effective? Have all parties been communicated with? Are details of the process, objectives, method, and timelines of the plan known to all? If there are gaps in this element of your plan testing, it is almost certain that these will manifest themselves in the event of a real-life emergency situation. Are all employees aware of the process to contact emergency services? Is everyone aware of evacuation processes and muster points in the event of a plant evacuation, for example?
  4. Record control: Is your response test being observed and recorded properly? This is often an element that is overlooked, but how can gaps be identified and improvements made if the emergency response rehearsal is not observed properly and the results analyzed? It is also prudent to record details of your emergency response tests in your OH&SMS (Operational Health and Safety Management System) documentation, to provide evidence to the external certification auditor.
  5. Your business needs: Is your testing frequency appropriate for your business? If you work in a nuclear plant vs. a coffee shop, your needs will be vastly different, but you will still need an emergency response plan that must be tested. You will need to consider all aspects, such as risk and seriousness of the emergency, time required to execute the plan, and the effect of an emergency on your business. Select a frequency that suits your own business needs within the context you operate in.

You can find out more about how to establish a plan in this article: How to ensure effective emergency preparedness and response in OHSAS 18001, but surely there are also benefits to be had from ensuring your plan is tested regularly.

The benefits of testing your emergency response plan

The benefits of regularly testing your emergency response plan are critical to the continual improvement of your OH&SMS, as well as providing significant business benefits.

  • Reduction of future risk: Regular testing can help to encourage a culture where employees are more risk aware and hazard identification becomes a daily consideration. This culture change can drive measurable improvements in your OH&SMS in the future.
  • Make your employees feel valued: From consultation to the fact that accidents, incidents, and emergency situations are reduced, employee morale will increase as a result of your thorough and well-planned emergency testing.
  • Increase stakeholder confidence: From shareholders to neighbors, from local community groups to federal government (depending on your business type and size), regular and successful emergency response testing will improve the status of your organization.
  • Reduce insurance premiums: A reduction in insurance premiums is one financial benefit that will come from regular testing. You will also avoid having to pay any fines or legislation penalties that often come after accidents in many regions.
  • Significant process improvement: Identifying opportunities for improvement is one of the key benefits derived from the process of planning, executing, and reviewing a process that tests your emergency response capability and procedure.

Testing your emergency response plan regularly and using the basis of the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” model to ensure that the process improves can bring many benefits to your organization. Make sure the planning is detailed and the review is effective to ensure your OH&SMS can benefit and continually improve. Involve your employees, and ensure all considerations are made towards the stakeholders. Manage and execute your emergency response procedure well, and your OH&SMS results, employee morale, public status, and company finances can all benefit accordingly.

Why not use our free  OHSAS 18001 Gap Analysis Tool to see if your emergency response is compliant with the standard?

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.