Employers’ Guide to Including Employees with Disabilities in Emergency Evacuation Plans

R2 implements and acknowledges all the advice below and strongly recommends it to all employers

Emergency evacuation plans are critical to ensuring the safety of all employees in the workplace. However, not all employees have the same needs or abilities when it comes to evacuating the workplace during an emergency. In particular, employees with disabilities may require specific accommodations to ensure their safety during an evacuation. This guide provides employers with practical tips on how to include employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans.

Identify Employees with Disabilities:

The first step in including employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans is to identify which employees may require accommodations. This can be done through a voluntary disclosure process or by reaching out to employees to ask about any accommodations they may need during an emergency. It is important to respect employees’ privacy and ensure that any information collected is kept confidential.

Determine Accommodations Needed:

Once employees with disabilities have been identified, it is important to determine what accommodations they may need during an emergency evacuation. Accommodations may include providing assistive technology, assigning a buddy or evacuation assistant, providing alternative evacuation routes or methods, and ensuring that emergency communication systems are accessible.

Motor Impairments:
– 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.

Sensory Impairments:
– 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 702 of the ADA Standards specifically addresses
– Employers may want to provide alerting devices, vibrating paging devices,
wireless communicators, or two-way paging systems to alert individuals
with hearing impairments of the need to evacuate.
– Employers should install tactile signage and maps for employees with
vision impairments. Braille signage, audible directional signage, and
pedestrian systems are also available. These products may benefit other
people who must navigate smoke-filled exit routes.
– Employers may also want to provide alpha-numeric pagers or other
communication devices to individuals with speech impairments so they
can communicate with personnel in an emergency.

Cognitive/Psychiatric Impairments:
– Employers should consider ways of communicating with people who have
cognitive impairments. For example, some individuals may benefit from
pictures of buddies, color coding of escape doors and areas of rescue
assistance, and information on a recorder.
– Employers should consider the effects of training for emergency
evacuation. Some individuals with psychiatric impairments benefit from
frequent emergency drills, but for others practice drills may trigger anxiety.
Notifying employees of upcoming practice drills and allowing them to opt
out of participation may be a reasonable accommodation. In this case,
another form of training for emergency evacuation procedures may be
needed, for example providing detailed written instructions.

Including employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans is critical to ensuring their safety in the workplace. By identifying employees with disabilities, determining necessary accommodations, developing clear emergency evacuation procedures, assigning roles and responsibilities, and reviewing and updating plans on a regular basis, employers can create a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees.