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Interest in emergency evacuation planning has increased dramatically since the September 11 terrorist attacks. In turn, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) started receiving more calls from employers requesting information about their legal obligation to develop emergency evacuation plans and how to include employees with disabilities in such plans. This article addresses these issues.
Although employers are not required to have emergency evacuation plans under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if employers covered by the ADA opt to have such plans they are required to include people with disabilities.1 Further, employers who do not have emergency evacuation plans may nonetheless have to address emergency evacuation for employees with disabilities as a reasonable accommodation under Title I of the ADA.2 In addition, employers in certain industries may have obligations to develop emergency evacuation plans under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) or under state and local law.3
Whether mandatory or voluntary, many employers decide to develop emergency evacuation plans. The following provides steps for including employees with disabilities in those plans.
After making a job offer, but before employment begins, an employer may ask all individuals whether they will need assistance during an emergency.
An employer also may periodically survey all of its current employees to determine whether they will require assistance in an emergency, as long as the employer makes it clear that self-identification is voluntary and explains the purpose for requesting the information.
The ADA requires employers to keep all medical information confidential. However, first aid and safety personnel may be informed, when appropriate, if the disability might require emergency treatment or if any specific procedures are needed for emergency evacuations.
In addition to requesting information from employees, employers may want to hold evacuation drills to help identify needs that employees are unaware of; conduct hazard analyses to help identify hazards specific to the workplace; develop a method to identify visitors with special needs; and contact local fire, police, and HazMat departments for guidance.
Employers should have emergency alarms and signs showing the emergency exit routes. These alarms and signs should be accessible and maintained in proper working order.
Employers may want to implement a “buddy system” for all employees. A buddy system involves employees working in teams so they can locate and assist each other in emergencies.
Employers may want to designate areas of rescue assistance. Section 4.3.11 of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) (www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm#4.3) specifically addresses areas of rescue assistance. If these areas do not have escape routes, they should have 1) an operating phone, cell-phone, TTY, and two-way radio so that emergency services can be contacted; 2) a closing door; 3) supplies to block smoke from entering the room under the door; 4) a window and something to write with (lipstick, marker) or a “help” sign to alert rescuers that people are in this location; and respirator masks.
Frequently suggested accommodations for employees with motor impairments include:
To evacuate individuals with motor impairments, employers can purchase evacuation devices. These devices help move people with motor impairments down the stairs or across rough terrain. If evacuation devices are used, personnel should be trained to operate and maintain them.
Employers should remove any physical barriers (boxes, supplies, furniture) to insure a barrier-free route of travel out of the building.
Employers may want to provide heavy gloves to protect individuals’ hands from debris when pushing their manual wheelchairs, a patch kit to repair flat tires, and extra batteries for those who use motorized wheelchairs or scooters. Arrangements should also be made to make wheelchairs available after evacuation.
Emergency evacuation accommodations for employees with sensory impairments may include the following:
Employers should install lighted fire strobes and other visual or vibrating alerting devices to supplement audible alarms. Lighted strobes should not exceed five flashes per second due to risk of triggering seizures in some individuals. Section 4.28 of the ADAAG (http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm#4.28) specifically addresses alarms.
Suggested accommodations in relation to employees with cognitive disabilities include:
Suggested accommodations in relation to employees with psychiatric conditions include:
Accommodation ideas for employees with respiratory impairments may include:
After effective accommodations are chosen, employers should decide who will be involved in implementing the evacuation plan, commit the plan to writing and share it with employees for feedback, practice the plan to make sure it works, and modify the plan as needed.
The second step for including employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans is plan implementation. After the final evacuation plan is written, a copy should be distributed to all employees and key personnel. In addition, an evacuation drill should be performed to make sure all employees are familiar with the plan. Finally, it should be integrated into the standard operating procedures.
The final step for including employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans is plan maintenance. To insure that accommodations continue to be effective, the evacuation plan should be practiced and the accommodations updated periodically. In addition, a system for reporting new hazards and accommodation needs should be developed; a relationship with local fire, police, and HazMat departments should be maintained; and new employees should be made aware of the plan. Finally, all accommodation equipment used in emergency evacuation should be inspected and maintained in proper working order.
1. Title I of the ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local government employers, employment agencies, labor unions, and joint labor-management committees. Federal employers are covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Both laws prohibit employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in regard to any employment practices or terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
2. Title I of the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known limitations of employees with disabilities. For additional information on reasonable accommodation, see Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html.
3. The OSH Act does not require that all employers have emergency action plans; however, the Act does require that employers from particular industries have emergency action plans (e.g., metal, chemical, and grain handling facilities). Employers must check particular industry codes to see if emergency action plans are required and what elements are necessary.4. Fact Sheet on Obtaining and Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures, http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/evacuation.html.
Adapted and reprinted with permission from “Employers’ Guide to Including Employees with Disabilities in Emergency Evacuation Plans,” by Linda Carter Batiste and Beth Loy, published by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), West Virginia University, Morgantown. Retrieved June 6, 2007 from www.jan.wvu.edu/media/emergency.html. A checklist for use by employers can be found with the online version of the report. The report was funded under a contract supported by the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor.
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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota (http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/201/default.html). Citation: Moseley, C., Salmi, P., Johnstone, C. & Gaylord, V. (Eds.). (Spring/Summer 2007). Impact: Feature Issue on Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities, 20(1). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration].
The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/201/201.pdf.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.