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Emergency Response Plans- Planning Before the Incident


While positive thinking is great and we all like to think that our company won’t have a serious incident, it is critical that organisations are prepared for the worst case scenario. Too often when Safety Wise Investigators are called in, we find ourselves not only investigating the actual incident but also advising the company on deficiencies associated with their emergency response plan.

Mitigating the Consequences

Emergency response planning is all about mitigating the consequences of incidents. An effective plan can save lives, minimise injuries and reduce damage to property and the environment. The way an organisation responds in the hours after an incident may also determine the survival of the business and their ability to avoid operating sanctions and resume operations post-incident.

One of the most tragic examples I was involved in was where a young worker had sustained critical injuries in a remote area. Any medical personnel will tell you that appropriate medical treatment within the “golden hour” following severe, traumatic injuries is critical and affects the chance of survival. Unfortunately, the site did not have a comprehensive emergency plan, had not tested the basic plan they did have and did not have emergency contact numbers immediately available. Further delays were encountered when panic set in at the site and the two Supervisors assumed the other had made the notifications and only belatedly realised neither had.

By the time medical personnel were flown to the site, some three hours later, the condition of the young worker had deteriorated rapidly. When I spoke to the attending Doctor later he said he raced to the injured worker from the chartered helicopter that flew them to the site and found he was still alive. He quickly assessed the worker’s condition and did an initial examination. The Doctor turned around to get some equipment for treatment, turned back and found the worker had died. In the Doctor’s opinion, the injuries the young worker had sustained were survivable - had he received medical treatment within the “golden hour”…

To compound this tragic outcome, it was found during the investigation that a nearby site in this remote region had a fully trained and qualified emergency response team, including paramedics, that could have been contacted and arrived at the incident site within 30 minutes. Had the site put more thought and rigour into their emergency response plan, tested it and ensured its effectiveness, then perhaps the outcome could have been different.

Practical Exercises

While we find that most organisations have an Emergency Response Plan, we frequently find that personnel are unfamiliar with it and there have been very few practical exercises testing it’s effectiveness. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for emergency response plans to be dusted off and used for the first time in a real emergency.

Periodic simulations and “roundtable” exercises ensure key personnel are familiar with their roles, while allowing staff and management to identify and address shortcomings in the emergency response plan.

General Principles

General principles associated with an emergency response plan are simple. The plan must:

  • be relevant and useful to the people on duty at the time of the event;

  • include checklists and emergency contact details;

  • be reviewed and updated regularly; and

  • be simulated to ensure the adequacy of the plan and the readiness of people allocated key roles and responsibilities.

Developing the Plan

Based on Safety Wise experiences, we offer some simple tips in developing an Emergency Response Plan (or checking that your current plan is effective):

  • Meet with personnel to identify the events that the emergency response plan will address.

  • Liaise with relevant agencies who may be involved, such as police, fire departments, emergency medical services, adjacent emergency response assets.

  • Allocate key roles and responsibilities to staff.

  • Designate a chain of command, listing names, job titles and 24/7 contact details of the people who are responsible for making decisions, monitoring response actions and returning the organisation to normal operations.

  • Ensure staff allocated key roles and responsibilities receive adequate training.

  • Include checklists and emergency contact lists.

  • Include specific instructions for shutting down equipment / dealing with hazardous chemicals etc.

  • Identify methods of alerting employees and other agencies (Emergency Services, Regulatory Authorities, EPA etc.) of the event.

  • Schedule practice runs of the plan.

  • Make the plan readily available to all staff and ensure a copy is placed at the workstation of the person who normally answers the company telephone or the Duty Officer (any people who are likely to be the first person notified of an occurrence).

  • On a scheduled basis run a simulated emergency response exercise involving subject matter expertise to develop the scenarios, provide coaching during the exercise and feedback in the exercise debrief.


So upon reflection of the real job of an Investigator and thinking about the job offer where I’d be in charge of Investigators who had to go out and do the scut work while I enjoyed the simple life – sitting in an office, driving a flash car, not dealing with anything more adventurous than deciding what coffee shop to go to - I had to question was I ready to give up everything about my job that I probably whinge a bit about – the never ending travel, the constant “adventures”, the long hours and the huge variety of challenges that come with it… and I finally concluded that the job I whinge about a bit is probably the job I enjoy the most. So thanks for the offer, but I think I’ve got a few more adventures left in me for now.

Interested in Knowing More?

Further information on Safety Wise’s Incident Cause Analysis (ICAM) Training is available from our website:

Additional ICAM Related Services

Safety Wise also offers the following additional services for sites that adopt the ICAM investigation analysis method:

  • Quality review of incident investigations using ICAM

  • Trend analysis of organisational factors contributing to serious incidents

  • Participation in investigations as an external / independent party


Jo De Landre

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