Emergency Evacuation and Hybrid Working Arrangements
The traditional emergency evacuation plan and all its requirements were conceived when everyone worked on site every day, and particularly focused on workplaces with large numbers of people. Now, in the wake of COVID and increasing adoption of hybrid working and remote working arrangements, it's important to revisit and review emergency management plans, to ensure they remain fit for purpose.
During Red traffic Light Settings, most of the office-based team members opted to work from home, as they were being strongly encouraged by NZ government to do, in order to minimise the risk of COVID transmission. It was a frequent occurrence to find that there were no wardens working in the upstairs office area on any given day. A routine evacuation drill during this time identified that there were no wardens to clear the office, but everyone had evacuated effectively.
More recently, with more people back to working in the office, the fire alarm was inadvertently activated, requiring us to evacuate the site until the Fire Service came and established that it was safe to return to the building. After satisfactorily and promptly clearing the building, a debrief established that various individuals had taken the initiative to check the evacuation status of their area and report to the building warden, as well as picking up the emergency response backpack sitting inside the door, and bringing first aid kits out to the assembly area. It was great to see how smoothly it went, even if we had a real fire alarm activation and call out to demonstrate it!
In the meantime, we have had a number of discussions about how best to address emergency evacuation arrangement. Not only has the organisation down-sized quite a bit recently, but also more people are working remotely more often. How do we ensure we have arrangements that will support effective evacuations no matter who is or is not working on site that day?
At its simplest level, the key function of emergency evacuation wardens is communication - they are a human link between the evacuation status of their area and the head / building warden, who is the site's point of contact with the emergency response team's officer in charge (OIC). Warden training emphasises that they only expected to convey information about what areas they have checked and verified as clear, areas they have not checked, and details of any person who will not or cannot evacuate - they are not expected to drag anyone out of the building, but rather to communicate details to the OIC, who will undertake any required rescue.
While we will still aim to have people formally trained and designated as area wardens and head / building wardens (and deputies), we are planning to communicate very simple instructions for all employees, which will be something along the lines of these key actions:
- Go directly to nearest safe exit to leave the building.
- Call out for everyone to leave the building.
- Take warden identifier gear if possible, as well as first aid kit and emergency response pack
- Check any areas you can on your way out of the building - note any areas verified clear, any areas not checked or not cleared, any person remaining in the building and where they are located (including anyone who refuses to leave, or anyone who cannot evacuate and has been left in a safe area for the fire service to rescue)
- Call 111 (or get someone else to call)
- Report evacuation status to building / head warden as per details above
- Assist building / head warden as required
I would like to hear what others are doing in these working conditions, and whether this information above is sufficient and does it make sense?
Thanks for your input!
We train all workers to be wardens then no matter the shift pattern or who is on site there is someone to take on the role. Incident controller (aka head warden, OIC) is by role and they have additional training on top of the basic warden.
You have raised some very good issues here that I suspect will be worse on some sites where there are non-workers who often will have no training in evacuation. Under the old "normal" the wardens would ensure evacuation but now? I am thinking of retail shop customers, students on a large campus, etc.
There was a fire in a Littlewoods department store in the UK in the 1980s when a couple who had bought their lunch in the cafeteria sat eating despite the alarm and then smoke. They died.
While the main legal requirement for evacuation is under the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017 and Regulations I think we also need to pay attention to sections 36 and 37 HSWA. What would it practicable to do and would that be reasonable?
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