Evacuating workers from high-rise buildings poses special challenges, but employers can help keep workers safe by preparing for emergencies.
The following tips are recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to help high-rise worksites prepare their facilities and staff for emergencies like fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters:
• Make sure fire exits are unlocked and doorways, halls and stairways are not blocked
• Regularly test and maintain safety and back-up systems like emergency communication systems, smoke detectors, and lighting systems
• Create an emergency evacuation plan and post it on each floor. Review the plan with staff regularly
• Choose wardens for each floor and train them to sound alarms and help evacuate employees on that floor
• Conduct regular evacuation drills
• Designate meeting locations outside the building for workers to gather after an evacuation. The meeting spot should be a safe distance from the building and out of the way of emergency responders
• Identify individuals with disabilities or special needs who may require help during an evacuation. Make a plan and assign team members to assist them in an emergency
• Make sure systems are in place to notify and evacuate building occupants during off-hours
• Post emergency contact information near phones
Properly train workers to know the facility’s evacuation plan and the locations of fire safety equipment. Be certain that every area has a safe route to at least two alternative exits and that employees know how many cubicles or desks may be between their workstation and the exits in case they must escape when no light source is available. Include instructions to help workers recognize the sound, location, and how to use alarms, and to report damaged or malfunctioning safety or back-up systems.
In the event of an emergency that requires evacuation, OSHA recommends the following:
• Sound alarms and instruct occupants to exit the building
• Workers should leave quickly but in an orderly fashion and according to the evacuation plan. Staff should be aware that a limited amount of smoke or fire may be found in the only available exit routes in some circumstances
• Avoid using elevators when evacuating a high-rise. Post signs to remind workers of this important rule
• Keep fire doors closed to slow the spread of fire and smoke
• Notify appropriate emergency personnel
• Report to the designated outdoor meeting place. Take a head count once employees reach this spot and notify response teams of anyone who is missing
• Never re-enter the building until emergency responders instruct workers that it is safe to do so
If in a high-rise building during an emergency, try to stay calm, go to a room with an outside window, and immediately stuff towels, clothing, paper, or other materials around cracks in doors to keep smoke from coming into the room. Stay in a location that can be easily seen by rescue workers, open all windows but be prepared to close them if smoke suddenly rushes in, and wave a light-colored cloth to attract attention and signal the need for help. If possible, use a phone to notify authorities of your situation and location.
Preparation is critical for safely handling disasters. Because high-rise buildings may differ in their design, location, occupancy, and construction, your facility can create a site-specific evacuation program to be fully prepared for an emergency.