Emergency evacuations are more common than many people realize, including evacuations in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the most frequent causes of evacuations in the U.S. each year are fires and floods. In addition, a wide variety of emergencies, both man-made and natural, may require a workplace to be evacuated. These emergencies may include explosions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, hazardous/toxic material releases, radiological and biological accidents, civil disturbances and workplace violence.
OSHA’s Getting Started webpage provides workers and employers guidance on planning for safe evacuations and shelter-in-place procedures during emergencies that may affect their workplace.
Deciding whether to shelter-in-place or evacuate to safety (i.e., get away from a threat or hazard) is among the most important decisions that must be made during an emergency. Employers should understand and plan for both scenarios. In any emergency, the local authorities may or may not be able to provide information immediately to assess the situation. Employers should consider how the situation might impact workers sheltering-in-place at a job site versus workers attempting to evacuate to safety.
If local authorities or the on-scene coordinator (e.g., incident commander or other official in charge) specifically give instructions to evacuate or seek medical treatment, do so immediately. In very hazardous situations, local officials may require mandatory evacuations. During other times, local officials may advise, or workers and employers may decide, to evacuate to avoid situations they believe are potentially dangerous.