Many of us have heard that we should leave all our personal belongings and to take nothing with us in the case of an evacuation.

I think we all agree that when we evacuate from an Airbus 380 that has crash landed into the sea, that this is a particularly sensible thing to adhere to.

But what about when we need to evacuate our workplace? Do the same rules apply?

There is no question that leaving a building in the case of an emergency as quickly and as safely as possible is paramount. Time is most definitely of the essence and seconds absolutely do count. It could mean the difference between averting danger or risk being affected by falling debris, flames or even worse still in some cases suffering from smoke inhalation or even death.

So how do we know if it is okay to take things with us as when we evacuate? Most companies should have procedures around this, and it could be that policies have been put in place by management or the Emergency Planning Committee of your organization.

Clearly if there are policies in place, then these should and need to be adhered to.

Two things stand out as pivotal in an emergency. One is the notion of safety first and secondly this should be balanced with the use of common sense and being flexible in any given scenario.

Your own safety comes first and foremost followed by the safety of our colleagues and other building occupants. We need to remove ourselves from danger as quickly as possible as well as everyone else, and this could mean the evacuation of everyone from your building.

If taking our belongings means spending valuable time to retrieve these, then common sense should dictate that this is not reasonable and could actually increase the risk to safety. An example would be having to cross the premises to go into your locker and grab the things that you want.  Use common sense and consider that this amount of time could be catastrophic, for you and potentially others. Remember that a warden’s role to is clear their area and to direct people to evacuate quickly and safely. Their other responsibility is to account for all occupants from their area of the building.

If they are wasting time trying to locate you because you have moved away from your usual work- station just to collect your things from some other location in the building, this could make it difficult to account for everyone and waste valuable time and place their safety at risk.

What if my important belongings are close at hand and it will take almost no time to grab them? Again, let’s use some common sense. If you are sitting at your desk and your mobile phone is right there and your bag containing your wallet, car keys, house keys are under your desk, of course you will grab them.  Will this waste valuable time or cause any danger to yourself or colleagues? Probably not.

Remember that in the event of an actual fire, it is probable that no one will be able to enter the building after the fire for some time.

Losing your mobile, keys and wallet/purse in a fire could be quite disruptive for you.  What if you have medication that is vital to your wellbeing?

It could be time to rethink company policies and procedures around how we manage this in our workplace to enable those important personal belongings to be gathered and taken with you in an emergency.

Safety must always be the first priority, but the question is whether or not retrieving and taking those few important things with you in an evacuation is going to pose a risk or not to your and others safety.

The team at WEM are able to conduct training for your Warden Team, facilitate Evacuation Exercises and Chair EPC Meetings. These could all play a big part in helping your company consider and refine procedures around safe and effective evacuations.

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