The other day I was audited on our Emergency Management Plan. During the session, the auditor and I discussed about the frequency to conduct evacuation drills. At our site we do one exercise yearly as a minimum, but I didn’t recall where the requirement came from other than the Emergency Management Plan itself. The discussion ended in that at least one drill yearly is in general good practice.
I kept thinking about this issue and decided to start a conversation (Emergency drills: how often is often enough?) in the LinkedIn group Safety OHS EHS HSE. It was really nice to see how lots of safety professionals around the globe replied to my call for assistance.
I’ve tried to summarize and structure the information received in the article below. I hope it makes sense!
To determine the type and number of emergency exercises needed, it seems good practice to:
- Check any statutory and regulatory requirements to know the minimum frequency you are obliged to conduct emergency exercises in your site.
- Do a risk assessment and identify what emergencies need exercising and their provisional frequency. E. A. (Philippines) mentioned they conducted two fire exercises per year plus one earthquake drill per year. Factors to be considered in the risk assessment include:
- Facility characteristics (hazards, layout and activities). S.M. (South Africa) mentioned how they use anhydrous ammonia and they conduct two drills per year associated to incidents with this chemical.
- External hazards such as severe weather, bush fire or adjacent facilities
- Site turnaround. R. A. M. (Malaysia), A. A. (Pakistan) and M. M. (Australia) mentioned how sites with high turnaround of personnel should exercise more frequently. This is effectively considering change management at the risk assessment stage.
- Number of people affected. P. M. (Canada) and R. B. (Uganda) mentioned the size of the organisation. I must admit I hadn’t thought about this before but If we consider that the risk is proportional to the number of people affected by the emergency, this certainly makes a lot of sense. Also emergency coordination is more difficult with large groups of people which implies more training may be required.
- Determine who needs to take part in each drill type with the stated frequency. One recurrent answer in the conversation was about how all shifts need to take part in the exercises, which will typically mean conducting two or three –or more!- times the same drill to ensure exposure of all workers. I do believe though that this may not be needed for all types of emergency (e.g. a medical emergency drill may only need to be conducted with emergency coordinators and first aid officers.)
- Set a target, measure the performance and reassess frequency. The provisional frequency set in the risk assessment stage above can be robust and make sense. However many participants in the conversation highlighted another complementary way of determining the number of emergency drills required: do it until you do it well enough. I like this for its simplicity:
- A. D. (Bahrain) exposed how they change the frequency based on the performance and response times.
- S. A. (South Africa) said it beautifully ‘it is simply based on the performance of the previous drill’.
- G. L. K. (USA) said ‘I didn’t stop drilling –all things in effective moderation- until I felt confident’.
- K. R. (UK) mentions the performance of previous evacuations as a factor to consider.
- C. B. (USA) recommended to conduct as many as you choose to establish proficiency.
- K. A. R. (Australia) said the team should train until it is confident, skilled and able to do it blind folded.
- J. V. (USA) also said we should check proficiency and if we see gaps increase the frequency.
- T. H. (Norway) also mentioned the evaluation of the drill results to find out how often these are to be carried out.
- J. G. (USA) recommended training until you don’t get it wrong.
- Consider changes that may affect the emergency response (two examples that I liked were ‘change in evacuation plan as a result of construction works on a neighboring site’ and ‘new students arriving at college accommodation’.) When things change review the risk assessment, inform personnel of any changes to the emergency response procedure and conduct the drill again shortly after the changes have occurred to minimize the risk.
I also did a light statistical analysis on the responses, and I generated the graphs below:
Graph 1. How often a particular drill frequency was mentioned
Graph 2. Cumulative frequency of recommendations
As you can see, most entries in the above-mentioned conversation (over 80%) relate to quarterly or less frequent drills. As exposed above though, the adequate frequency depends on multiple factors. Nevertheless I find it interesting to see what a sample of safety professionals across different industries and countries consider reasonable.
A lot more information came out of that conversation, and I’m planning to use it in this blog in the future (documentation for reference, characteristics of a good emergency drill etc.), stay tuned!
What do you think? Would you do things differently? Do you think using EVA Emergency would make your site safer, no matter how often you conduct drills?
Thank you for your time!