Everyday in America, 13 people leave for work and never return home. That amounts to 4,690 employee deaths per year. With the use of Emergency Notification Systems in conjunction with Emergency Action Plans, companies have the opportunity to save lives.
Employee Alarm Systems, Mass Notification Systems, Emergency Communication Systems, Voice Intelligibility Systems - they are all slightly different, but they are all the same in what is important. They save lives. Emergencies occur every day, whether they are human error or a natural disaster, employees can act fast with the use of a notification system. With an emergency notification system, companies not only contribute to the safety of employees, but also meet NFPA and OSHA compliancy.
Emergency notification systems are essential in the safety of personnel. OSHA regulations can be unclear, but here are four facts that will help facilities maintain compliancy and keep employees safe.
1. There is more to an Employee Alarm System than merely notifying employees an emergency exists.
All plants are required by OSHA to have an Employee Alarm System in working areas (OSHA, section 29, CFR 1910.165). However, the type of system is left to the plant. According to OSHA, section 1910.165(3), "The goal of this standard is to assure that all employees that need to know an emergency exists can be notified of the emergency. The method of transmitting the alarm should reflect the situation found at the workplace."
While the means of alerting employees is the facility's choice, facilities are required to choose an alerting system that gives specific information about the emergency, providing employees with an action such as "evacuate" or "shelter-in-place." Another requirement for emergency notification systems is reliability. Specifically, all systems must be supervised, ensuring a staff member will be notified and rectify any issue with circuitry or power.
2. Employee Alarm System requirements vary based on the number of employees.
In worksites of ten or fewer employees, OSHA recommends "direct voice communication," or shouting. Worksites with more than ten employees use more sophisticated means of addressing emergencies. These include two-way radios, emergency telephone communication systems, site-wide warning sirens, and site-wide voice paging. To comply with the regulation for alerting employees of the next required action, many companies use multiple methods as part of their Emergency Action Plan.
3. OSHA requirements may not have changed, but did your facility?
OSHA, section 29, CFR 1910.165 has not changed in recent history, but has your facility or the community around you? Perhaps your facility has grown from nine employees to fifteen. With nine employees, simply shouting to a fellow co-worker about an emergency would suffice. However, at fifteen employees, now, a supervised emergency notification system with action steps is required.
As an example, let us say Facility X installed a Mass Notification System with pre-recorded alerts in 2000. Although, it may have been in compliance in 2000 and OSHA's regulations have not changed, Facility X and the United States environment has changed. If Facility X constructed an addition with bright lights and loud machinery, it is possible that the ambient noise or lighting overpowers the Mass Notification System. If the Mass Notification System is no longer bright or loud enough to overshadow the noise and lighting, then Facility X would be in violation.
In 2000, it is likely that "terrorist threat" was not pre-recorded on the Mass Notification System. Many early notification systems only used three signals: evacuate, used for fire; shelter-in-place, used for weather; and all-clear. If a terrorist threat was the emergency, what would be the appropriate action?
When the economy crashed in 2008, many people were laid off. Facility X laid off the supervisor of the Emergency Notification System, not realizing that supervising the notification system was a responsibility of theirs. The supervisor was never replaced, causing the facility to be non-compliant. Evaluate the Emergency Notification System once a year to ensure that it remains in compliance. Another option is to upgrade to an emergency notification system that provides flexible message editing or voice paging override.