Your Emergency Planning Obligations
Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), effective January 1, 2012, organizations (nonprofits and businesses) in Ontario must provide, and make available in an accessible format, information about emergency response plans and/or public safety information to its customers and employees with disabilities.
In addition, organizations must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if the disability is such that an individualized plan is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee’s disability. Note that “customers” includes clients, members, and the general public.
Starting January 1, 2012 you must:
- work with your employees who have a disability to figure out what information and assistance they might need in an emergency
- make public emergency information accessible, upon request.
Individualized emergency response information
An individualized emergency response plan helps an employee with a disability during an emergency.
It applies to all businesses and nonprofits in Ontario with at least one employee.
What You Need To Do
As of January 1, 2012, if you know an employee with a disability might need help in an emergency:
- Create for them an individualized emergency response information;
- With their consent, share this information with anyone designated to help them in an emergency; and
- Review the emergency response information when:
- the employee changes work locations
- you review the employee’s overall accommodation needs
- you review your organization’s emergency response policies.
Disabilities can be temporary or permanent, visible or non-visible, and “employee” includes paid staff, but not volunteers or unpaid staff.
Steps to Meet Your Requirements
1. Review your emergency information
Ask yourself, how do staff learn about an emergency and what are they expected to do, depending on the type of emergency?
2. Determine who needs help
Employees with disabilities may not think about the information they need to know before and during an emergency; but employers must. If you don’t know if any of your employees need customized information, make the offer to your entire staff team and invite people to approach you privately if they need an individualized plan.
3. Prepare and provide emergency information
Find out what kind of information employees need and if they need it in an accessible format. Give it to them as soon as you can.
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. But you can also help someone to use the original document or resource; for example, by reading it aloud.
Some employees may need more than an accessible format. For example, if someone can’t hear a fire alarm, making the fire evacuation plan accessible won’t help, but creating a customized evacuation plan will.
If they need another person’s help in an emergency, get the employee’s consent, then share the emergency information with the people who will help them. Don’t share details of the employee’s disability, just what kind of help they need.
4. Follow up
Revisit the information if the employee moves, or if you review their accommodation needs or your emergency procedures.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services has created an excellent guide to help you meet these requirements, including a sample employee memo and emergency information worksheet.
Emergency and Public Safety Information
There are many types of emergency and public safety information, for example:
- Emergency plans and procedures, such as campground instructions on how to use a lifejacket
- Information you give the public about alarms or other emergency alerts, such as a notice explaining how the fire extinguisher works
- Maps, warning signs and evacuation routes, such as a map pointing out emergency exits
Does this apply to my organization?
- Do you have any emergency procedures, plans or public safety information?
- Are they available to the public?
It applies to you if you answer ‘yes’ to both of these questions.
What You Need To Do
As of January 1, 2012:
- Upon request, make your emergency and public safety information accessible to people with disabilities.
- Work with the person requesting the information to figure out how you can meet their needs, as soon as possible.
You don’t have to have accessible formats on hand and you don’t have to create new emergency or public safety information. Real-time emergency information (such as announcements and alarms) isn’t included in the standard. Just make any existing information that is available to the public accessible, upon request.
Steps to Meet Your Requirements
1. Assess your existing information
Focus on things you create before an emergency strikes, like evacuation plans, brochures or signs. Is there anything that would make it hard for someone with a disability to read, see, hear or understand?
2. Make it accessible
The law doesn’t tell you what formats to use; it’s flexible so you can work with the public to figure out what they need.
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. But you can also make information accessible by helping someone to use the original document or resource; for example, by reading it aloud.
3. Provide it upon request, as soon as possible
In some cases, you may be able to make the information accessible instantly. In other cases, it may take longer – it depends on the individual’s needs, the format and your organization’s resources.
Accessibility Ontario is happy to help you meet these two new AODA requirements. Drop us an email and let us know what you need!