An assembly point is a designated location where people can gather during a workplace emergency, such as a fire or an earthquake, to ensure that everyone is accounted for and to receive further instructions. During a workplace emergency, disorder can create additional safety concerns. However, a well-thought-out emergency action plan, complete with planned and marked assembly points, can reduce confusion and help keep employees safe.
Why Are Assembly Points Important in Case of an Emergency?
Properly marking assembly points helps employees know where they are expected to gather during an emergency, which is crucial for the safety and well-being of individuals involved—including employees, visitors, and any rescue workers who may arrive to help. The benefits of designated and clearly marked assembly points include:
- Safety: Assembly points are usually located in safe areas away from potential hazards, such as fire or debris. Though an evacuation plan will list expectations in the event of an emergency, marking the escape route and location of assembly points provides clear visual cues to help individuals to evacuate the building or area quickly and safely.
- Accountability: Gathering at assembly points in an emergency stuation allows for a headcount to ensure everyone is accounted for. This is especially important for emergency responders, who need to know how many people were in the building or area when the emergency occurred.
- Communication: Assembly points are often where further instructions are given to those involved in an emergency evacuation. This could include information on the situation, next steps, and any other important updates.
Overall, knowing the location of assembly points in the case of an emergency is essential for ensuring the safety of everyone involved and minimizing the risk of harm.
Designating Assembly Areas
Employees will need to respond to emergencies differently depending on the type of threat they face. For example, workers would convene at a specific assembly point inside the workplace (shelter in place) if threatened by a tornado, but evacuate to an exterior assembly point during a fire. This is why a business or industrial emergency plan must identify when and how employees are to respond to different types of emergencies, and where the assembly points are for various types of emergency. What would happen if the warehouse caught fire, a nearby river flooded, or a chemical spill occurred within the production facility?
The type of building you work in may be a factor in your decision. Most buildings are vulnerable to the effects of disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or explosions. The extent of the damage depends on the type of emergency and the building’s construction. Modern factories and office buildings, for example, are framed in steel and are structurally sounder than a smaller or older building may be. In a disaster such as a major earthquake or explosion, however, nearly every type of structure will be affected. Some buildings will collapse and others will be left with weakened floors and walls. Knowing of any potential structural failings can help you determine a safer evacuation route and meeting place. OSHA guidelines help in this plan-making process.
OSHA Assembly Point Requirements
A critical part of an emergency action plan, no matter what kind of disaster happens, is a procedure for employers or designated employees to account for all employees (and customers or visitors, if applicable) after an evacuation. OSHA offers requirements and tips¹ to help in gathering and accounting for employees during and after an emergency situation:
- Designate both indoor (“areas of refuge”) and outdoor assembly areas and ensure they have sufficient space to accommodate all of your employees and any additional visitors who may be in the building during an emergency.
- Exterior assembly points, used when the building must be partially or completely evacuated, are typically located in parking lots or other open areas away from busy streets.
- Try to designate outdoor assembly areas up-wind of your building from the most common or prevailing wind direction.
- Make sure evacuation routes and designated assembly points are well-labeled with visual cues.
- When designating an assembly area, consider—and try to minimize—the possibility of employees interfering with rescue operations.
- Establish a method for accounting for non-employees such as suppliers and customers.
- Establish procedures for further evacuation in case the incident expands, which may consist of sending employees home by normal means or providing them with transportation to an offsite location.
Accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. Take a headcount after the evacuation, identify the names and last known locations of anyone not accounted for and pass them to the official in charge. Confusion in the assembly areas can lead to delays in rescuing anyone trapped in the building, or unnecessary and dangerous search-and-rescue operations—so ensure your assembly point is clearly marked to aid in navigation.
How to Install Assembly Point Signs for Evacuation
After designating an easily accessible emergency assembly location a safe distance away, ensure the escape route and gathering space are clearly marked with signs, floor tape, pavement markings, or other visual cues. Assembly point signs are an essential component of emergency evacuation plans as they help people quickly and easily locate the emergency meeting location.
When choosing assembly point cues, opt for large, bold signs with clear, concise text and graphics that indicate the direction and distance to the assembly point, and consider additional information, such as emergency contact numbers or instructions for what to do in case of an emergency. For outdoor signage that can be exposed to sun, rain, and cold, choose durable, weather-resistant materials such as plastic, metal, or vinyl and outdoor-ready printing methods to ensure your emergency signage remains clearly legible in all conditions.
Strategically place emergency signs and assembly point notices at regular intervals throughout the building or property, such as at exits, stairwells, and hallways, to ensure that they are easily visible. They may be located on the walls, floor, and doors for maximum visibility. These visual cues are only part of an emergency response plan—but they help improve reaction time and organization in the case of an emergency.
Evacuation routes and emergency assembly areas are critical components of emergency planning and response, and visual cues are essential to quick and safe evacuation, whether due to a natural disaster or industrial situation. Find more ideas for developing and implementing your workplace emergency plans and assembly points in our Resource Center.