Fire, Security and Workplace Emergencies


Published: 26 August 2019

Do you know what to do if there is an emergency at your work?

You should. In Australia, during an emergency situation, healthcare providers are required to maintain quality care and services to their clients (Aged Care Act 1997).

Depending on the severity and nature of the emergency this could mean anything from keeping residents calm and comfortable, to assisting with a facility-wide evacuation.

In care settings such as residential aged care, emergency event response and risk management is directly tied to Standard 5 of the Aged Care Quality Standards: Organisation’s Service Environment.

The following article will help familiarise you with what you need to know should you find yourself in an emergency situation at your work. Note, however, that this piece is only intended as a supplementary guide and you should refer to, and familiarise yourself with your organisation’s emergency policy and procedures, at all times.

What is an Emergency?

Correctly Identifying a workplace emergency situation is vital to being able to respond appropriately and quickly. Some healthcare settings, such as emergency departments, will be confronted with emergency situations as routine. A workplace emergency, however, refers to an unexpected situation that:

  1. Threatens employees, residents and patients, and members of the general public;
  2. Disrupts or completely shuts-down facility operations; or
  3. Causes physical and/or environmental damage.

(Chao & Henshaw 2001)

Emergency sign surrounded by fire | Image

Types of Emergencies

Some examples of emergency situations can include:

  1. Fire and smoke;
  2. Personal injury or threat;
  3. Bomb threats;
  4. Suspicious mail or package;
  5. Biohazard or chemical spills;
  6. Gas leak;
  7. Natural disasters.

(NSW Health Business and Asset Services 2010; Safe Work Australia 2012)

What to do in an Emergency

In an emergency, call 000 or the local emergency services.

As in any normal emergency situation, the first responder to identify the emergency should notify emergency services as soon as possible by calling triple-zero (000) (or equivalent local emergency services) (Ageing and Aged Care 2018).

Once the emergency services have been notified, you should notify the appropriate workplace safety officers, should they not already be aware of the situation, as per your organisation’s emergency policy/process (Ageing and Aged Care 2017).

Emergency Planning

Healthcare facilities should be well prepared and able to respond to a range of emergency events that may impact the provision of care. As a ‘person conducting business or undertaking’ (PCBU), it is regulated by Safe Work Australia that your organisation has an emergency plan in place (Safe Work Australia 2019).

An emergency plan is a set of instructions outlining what to do in an emergency situation, and must include:

  1. Emergency procedures and responses to emergencies;
  2. Evacuation procedures;
  3. Notifying emergency services as soon as possible;
  4. Directions for any medical treatment and assistance required;
  5. Effective communication between the authorised emergency response coordinator and the rest of the workplace;
  6. Testing of the emergency procedure;
  7. Information, training and instruction to relevant workers in relation to implementing the emergency procedures.

(Safe Work Australia 2019)

For a full list of what to include in an emergency plan, visit:

Emergency Control Organisation (ECO)

An essential part of having an emergency plan is identifying the personnel in charge of developing and executing it. Australian Standard 3745-2010: Planning for emergencies in facilities, mandates that an Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) be established in all workplaces, comprised of both senior staff members and employees (Rosales 2018). The ECO should be tasked with implementing all emergency response procedures, including the evacuation of all building occupants (First 5 Minutes 2019).

The ECO generally includes a Chief Fire Warden, Deputy Chief Warden/Emergency Coordinator, Floor/Area Wardens and Wardens/Emergency Officers. Each member of the ECO should be provided with the necessary training to perform their roles in an emergency.

Important: identify and take note of who the fire/emergency wardens are in your workplace or immediate ward/floor.

Evacuation Procedures

Police, health profesionals, and others crowing around an emergency | Image

In a care setting such as a residential care facility, the stakes of an emergency are often higher, due to the number of infirm or immobile residents. If a full evacuation during an emergency is necessary, it is important to be aware of your facility’s evacuation procedures.

People’s needs will vary in an emergency situation. When developing an evacuation plan, your emergency response coordinators should give some special consideration to managing the evacuation of vulnerable people.

Some recommended strategies could include the following:

People using wheelchairs and mobility devices:

Keep wheelchair ramps and access points free. If in a multi-storey building, elevators should not be used - particularly if there is a fire. If a person using a wheelchair can not easily get out of the building, fire-isolated stairwells can provide limited safe refuge during a fire, until emergency services arrive. Ensure the building’s fire warden is notified of this.

People who are deaf / hard of hearing:

Flashing light-alarms should accompany any emergency alarms, or if not available, persons should be tasked with notifying and assisting residents with hearing loss.

People who are blind / have low vision:

Ensure fire-escape stairwells are sufficiently lit and alarms can be heard in all rooms of the facility.

People with cognitive impairment and disability:

People with cognitive impairment and disability may have difficulty recognising an emergency. Assigning an evacuation ‘buddy’ can help reduce stress and provide support and guidance in this situation.

Have a plan for alternate accommodation:

In the event of a facility-wide evacuation, residential aged care facilities should identify alternative accommodation options for relocation. If assistance is required to identify alternate lodgings, the Department of Health recommends contacting them for assistance. A list of State and Territory contact numbers can be found here.

(Australian Network on Disability 2019; The University of Western Australia 2018)

Refuge point sign | Image

Training is Key

The Department of Health notes that the success of emergency risk management plans and procedures are reliant on a steadfast testing and training schedule.

Practical emergency training exercises such as regular fire drills help to iron out any kinks and ensure the emergency plan translates into practice, helping identify to staff what their roles are in an emergency.

Basic emergency and evacuation training should be mandatory and given to all employees. This will generally involve limited fire equipment training, evacuation procedures and familiarising themselves with fire exits and the evacuation point for your building (at a minimum) (FCF 2019; Wormald n.d.).

For members of the Emergency Control Organisation, in-depth and ongoing training should be provided by your workplace.

Additional Resources


Test Your Knowledge

Question 1 of 3

True or False: Developing an emergency plan is not the responsibility of the care facility.


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