Many of us have heard that we should leave all our personal belongings and take nothing with us in the case of an evacuation.
I think we all agree that when we evacuate from an Airbus 380 that has crash landed into the sea, this is a particularly sensible thing to adhere to.
But what about when we need to evacuate our workplace? Do the same rules apply?
There is no question that leaving a building in the case of an emergency as quickly and as safely as possible is paramount. Time is most definitely of the essence and seconds absolutely do count. It could mean the difference between averting danger or risk of being affected by falling debris, or flames, suffering from smoke inhalation or worse in some cases, even death.
So how do we know if or when it is okay to take things with us when we evacuate? Most companies should have procedures around this, and it could be that policies have been put in place by management or the Emergency Planning Committee of your organisation.
Clearly, if there are policies in place, then these should and need to be adhered to.
Time is everything
Two things stand out as pivotal in an emergency. One is the notion of safety first and secondly, this should be balanced with the use of common sense and being flexible in any given scenario.
Your own safety comes first and foremost followed by the safety of our colleagues and other building occupants. We need to remove ourselves from danger as quickly as possible as well as everyone else, and this could mean the evacuation of everyone from your building.
If taking our belongings means spending valuable time to retrieve these, then common sense should dictate that this is not reasonable and could actually increase the safety risk.
An example would be having to cross the premises to go into your locker and grab the things that you want. Use common sense and consider that this amount of time could be catastrophic, for you and potentially others.
Remember that a warden’s role to is clear their area and to direct people to evacuate quickly and safely. Their other responsibility is to account for all occupants from their area of the building.
If they are taking extra time trying to locate you, this could make it difficult to account for everyone. Moving away from your usual workstation just to collect your things from a different location can waste much valuable time for you and everyone else. During times of emergency, nothing is more important than time and spending every second of it properly – everything else will come second.
This is the mindset to avoid risking anyone’s safety.
What about everything else?
What if my important belongings are close at hand and it will take almost no time to grab them? Again, let’s use some common sense.
If you are sitting at your desk and your mobile phone is right there and your bag containing your wallet, car keys, and house keys are under your desk, of course, you will grab them. Will this waste valuable time or cause any danger to yourself or your colleagues? Probably not. A few inches away from your usual station to retrieve your essentials will hopefully not bring any harm to anyone.
Remember that in the event of an actual fire, it is probable that no one will be able to enter the building after the fire for some time.
Losing your mobile, keys and wallet/purse in a fire could be quite disruptive for you. What if you have medication that is vital to your well-being? Everything is situational. You should always be quick on your feet and mind and be smart with every decision made during emergencies.
If it’s a repeating concern for many employees, it could be time to rethink company policies and procedures around how we manage storing essential items in our workplace.
Safety must always be the top priority, but it’s also important to ask questions about whether or not retrieving and taking those essentials with you in an evacuation is going pose a risk or not to your or others’ safety.
The team at WEM are able to conduct training for your Warden Team, facilitate Evacuation Exercises and Chair EPC Meetings. These could all play a big part in helping your company consider and refine procedures around safe and effective evacuations.
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