How to provide accessible emergency information to staff
A guide and templates for employers on how to make your emergency information accessible and develop a plan to help an employee with a disability during an emergency.
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Accessibility Standard for Employment: providing emergency response information for employees with disabilities
This guide is not legal advice. If you require assistance in interpreting the legislation or the regulation, please contact your legal adviser. This guide has been created to help you understand the legislation and/or regulation and does not replace the official version of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, Ontario Regulation 191/11 and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). If there is any conflict between this guide and the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation or the AODA, the regulation and the AODA are the final authorities.
As an employer, you want to keep your employees safe, especially in emergencies. Ontario’s Accessibility Employment Standard for can help you do that. Under the standard, if you have employees with disabilities you must provide individualized emergency response information to them as of January 1, 2012.
This includes making your emergency information accessible, or developing a plan to help an employee with a disability during an emergency.
Quick Fact: What is accessible information?
You can make a document accessible by recreating it in a different format; for example, printing it in large print for someone with vision loss. This is called an "accessible format."
But you can also make information accessible by helping someone to use the original document or resource; for example, by reading it aloud. This is called a "communication support." Other examples include adding captioning to videos or using written notes to communicate with someone who is hard of hearing.
Everyone is different, so simply do what works best.
What you need to do
If you know an employee might need help in an emergency due to a permanent or temporary disability:
- Provide individualized emergency response information to the employee
- Get the employee’s consent, then share this information with the people designated to help them in an emergency
- Review the employee’s emergency response information when:
- the employee changes work locations
- you review the employee’s overall accommodation needs
- you review your organization’s general emergency response policies.
An "employee" includes paid staff, but not a volunteer or unpaid staff.
Ingrid works the night shift at a call centre. A poster listing tips to keep employees safe in an emergency is on the wall outside her cubicle. But Ingrid has vision loss and can't read it. Her manager e-mails Ingrid the tips which she can read with her screen reader.
Disabilities can be permanent, or temporary. For example, an employee with a broken leg might need help using stairs or opening doors for a short period of time.
Steps to consider when providing emergency response information
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to developing individual emergency response information. The law does not specify what accommodations employers must make or what information you must provide. It’s flexible so you can work with your staff to determine what they need in an emergency situation. Here are some ideas that may help you:
1. Review your emergency information
Look at evacuation plans, fire safety plans, emergency maps, alarm systems, fire exits, firefighter elevators, designated waiting areas and any other emergency information, systems or features you provide. Ask yourself, how do staff learn about an emergency and what are they expected to do?
2. Determine who needs help
Employees with disabilities may tell you about the information they need to respond to an emergency; but if they don’t think about it, you have to. If you know an employee has a disability, and you’re not sure if they would need help in an emergency, you should ask. If you are unaware that they have a disability, you aren’t expected to provide customized emergency information. However, it’s a good idea to ask everyone. You could send a memo, or ask during employee orientation. Every organization is different, so do what works best for everyone in your workplace.
Appendix A is a sample memo to ask staff if they need individualized emergency information.
What information might help employees to stay safe? For example, after eye surgery, an employee who has low vision may need help finding the exit in a blackout. Even though this disability is temporary, talk to them about it and see what help they may need before an emergency strikes.
Sometimes figuring out what help may be needed is easy:
- People with hearing loss may need someone to alert them during audible alarms or announcements.
- Individuals with vision loss may need help with written instructions, or finding escape routes and avoiding objects. They may need more time to evacuate.
- Someone with a mobility disability, such as a broken leg or permanent paralysis, may need help leaving the workplace, using stairs or opening doors.
Other times it may be more difficult:
- Someone with asthma may need help walking long distances or with stairs, especially if there is smoke, dust, fumes or chemicals in the air.
- A person with a speech disability may need different ways to communicate in an emergency.
- A person with a mental health disability may have trouble dealing with high anxiety, panic or stress in an emergency.
Solmaz has a mental health disability and gets anxious in crowds. She works on the top floor and her evacuation route goes through narrow corridors and down several flights of stairs. Solmaz is worried that evacuating with a crowd could increase her anxiety. She could panic and put herself and other employees at risk.
After letting her employer know her concerns, Solmaz got new instructions that included waiting for most staff to exit before she evacuates. She also walked the evacuation route with her manager and they identified areas where she could safely step out of the flow of people if she feels anxious. During their discussion, Solmaz said that she would feel better if she was with someone she knew. So another staff member was asked and agreed to walk with her.
3. Prepare and provide emergency information
Once you know who may need help, find out what kind of help they need. For example, you could meet with them or give them a questionnaire. Ask if they need information in an accessible format.
Appendix B is a sample worksheet to help you identify barriers and how to overcome them.
How you provide emergency information depends on how complex the information is, the employee’s needs and your organization’s resources. But whether you provide emergency information verbally, in a written format or in another way, do so as soon as you can.
If the employee needs help in an emergency, get their consent, then share the emergency information with the people who will help them. Don’t share details of the employee’s medical condition or disability, just what kind of help they need.
Appendix C is a sample employee emergency response information template.
Beth is Deaf and works for a church that uses audible fire alarms. After reviewing the church’s fire safety plan, the priest realized that Beth would not be able to hear the alarm. The priest assigned two employees who work with Beth to let her know if the alarm goes off. He sent Beth an email and asked her to let him know if she had any concerns or needed other accommodations.
4. Follow up
Review the information if the employee moves to a different location, or whenever you review the employee’s accommodation needs or your emergency policies and procedures. For example, if you hold an emergency evacuation drill, you may want to check how well the information worked.
Josef is an accountant who works on the sixth floor. Last month he broke his leg, so until it’s healed he uses a wheelchair and takes the elevator. But in an emergency, the elevators are not available and staff use the stairs. Josef hasn't thought about it, but his employer has and knows he can't take the stairs. His employer talks to Josef about developing individualized emergency response information. Josef’s employer decides to purchase an evacuation chair to help him get down the six flights of stairs. With Josef’s consent, two colleagues are trained to use the chair and shown where it’s kept.
Appendix A: Sample employee memo
Subject: Employee safety during emergencies
At [Name of Organization], we take employee safety seriously.
If you have a disability, whether permanent or temporary, and may need help during an emergency, please let me know. I will ask you to complete a self-assessment form, then work with you to develop individualized emergency response information that will meet your needs in an emergency situation.
Please note that I do not need to know the details of your medical condition or disability, only the kind of help you may need. The information you provide will be kept confidential and only shared with your consent.
If you have questions or you already have emergency response information and need to adjust it, please let me know.
Appendix B: Sample employee emergency information worksheet
Please complete this worksheet to help us identify barriers that could arise in an emergency situation and provide suggestions on how to overcome them. Your input will help us provide you with individualized emergency information.
The information collected is confidential and will only be shared with your consent. You do not have to provide details of your medical condition or disability, only the type of help you may need in an emergency.
Emergency Contact Information
- Where do you work?
- Do you work in different places on a regular basis?
List the addresses, floors and room locations.
Potential Emergency Response Barriers
- Can you see or hear the fire/security alarm signal?
Yes No Don’t Know
If no, what would help you know the alarm was flashing/ringing?
- Can you activate the fire/security alarm system?
Yes No Don’t Know
If no, what would help you sound the alarm?
- Can you talk to emergency staff?
If no, what would help you to communicate with them?
- Can you use the emergency exits?
Yes No Don’t Know
If no, what would help you to exit the building?
- Does your mobility device fit in the emergency waiting area?
Yes No Don’t Know
If no, what would help it fit, or is there a better location?
- Could you find the exit if it was smoky or dark?
If no, what would help you find the exit?
- Can you exit the building by yourself?
If no, what would help you to get out?
- Can you get into an emergency evacuation chair by yourself?
Yes No Don’t Know N/A
If no, what help do you need?
- Would you be able to evacuate during a stressful and crowded situation?
If no, what would help you evacuate?
- Can you read/access our emergency information?
If no, what would make this information available to you?
- If you need help to evacuate, what instructions do people need to help you?
- If you need other accommodations in an emergency, please list them here.
Appendix C: Sample employee emergency response information template
Use the information collected in the employee emergency information worksheet to create individualized emergency responses for each employee with a disability. Feel free to modify the form if an employee needs different types of accommodations for different types of emergencies.
All information in this document is confidential and will only be shared with the employee’s consent.
Individualized Workplace Emergency Response Information for:
Emergency Contact Information
Work Location (Repeat for other work locations)
[Name of employee] will be informed of an emergency situation by:
[check all that apply]
Existing alarm system
Visual alarm system
List types of assistance (e.g. staff assistance, transfer instructions, etc.)
List any devices, where they are stored, and how to use them
Evacuation Route and/or Procedure
Provide a step-by-step description, beginning from the first sign of an emergency
Alternate Evacuation Route
Emergency Support Staff
The following people have been designated to help [Name of employee] in an emergency:
|Name||Location and/or Contact Information||Type of Assistance|
Consent to share individualized emergency response information
I [Name of employee] consent to [Name of organization] sharing this individualized emergency response information with the individuals listed above, who have been designated to help me in an emergency.
Signature: [Sign here]
Form completed by: [Manager’s signature here]
For reviewed by: [Employee’s signature here]
Next review date: