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

By Linda Carter Batiste and Beth Loy

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.

Legal Requirements

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.

Plan Development

The first step for including employees with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans is plan development. Plan development begins with identifying accommodation needs. One of the best ways to identify accommodation needs is to ask employees whether they have limitations that might interfere with safe emergency evacuation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued guidance that discusses what information employers are allowed to gather when developing an emergency evacuation plan.4 According to this guidance, there are three ways that an employer may obtain 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.

Accommodations

Once accommodation needs have been identified, the employer should choose effective accommodation options. Often employees with disabilities are a good resource for accommodation ideas. In addition, employers should contact local fire, police, and HazMat departments to determine what services they can offer. Finally, employers can contact other resources such as JAN. JAN can provide specific accommodation ideas on a case-by-case basis. The following is an overview of frequently suggested accommodation ideas for emergency evacuation. Additional details about many of them can be found through JAN’s Searchable Online Accommodations Resource (SOAR) at www.jan.wvu.edu/soar. In the area of general accommodations the following are suggested:


Frequently suggested accommodations for employees with motor impairments include:


Emergency evacuation accommodations for employees with sensory impairments may include the following:


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.

Plan Implementation and Maintenance

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.

Notes

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].
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The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/201/201.pdf.

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