Emergency preparedness for the dental practice

July 19, 2010
In addition to employee safety, dentists are responsible for the safety of patients who are in the office during an emergency. Do you know exactly what to do in the event of a fire, earthquake, or other disaster?

By Leslie Canham, CDA, RDA

How will you respond to an emergency during work? Do you know exactly what to do in the event of a fire, earthquake, or other disaster? OSHA requires employers to have written plans for employee safety. Does your office have written plans that outline the steps to take in the event of an emergency? In addition to employee safety, dentists are responsible for the safety of patients who are in the office during an emergency.


An earthquake can happen anytime, anywhere. Imagine you are at work with a full schedule of patients. Suddenly, a massive earthquake hits. In a few seconds it’s over, but the damage is great, and while your office building remains standing, the streets, roads, and highways are severely damaged, and traffic is at a standstill. You, your coworkers, and your patients are stranded at the office. Next thing that happens is the power goes out. Let’s review some of the steps that can help keep you and your patients in good shape until it’s safe to return home.

First aid kit and emergency medical supplies

In the event of a disaster, emergency services may not be able to reach you. OSHA requires employers to have a first aid kit, which should be checked periodically and restocked before any supplies run out. The patient emergency kit should also be inspected to confirm that necessary items are in the kit and all pharmaceuticals are current. Any expired pharmaceuticals should be removed from the kit immediately.

Check to make sure your oxygen tank is ready for an emergency. Is the tank fully charged? If you have a portable oxygen tank that is ready to use, and are the attachments, such as mask and hoses, clean and stored with the tank? Is the CPR mask in good condition?


For fire safety, make sure the office fire extinguishers are fully charged and located in a highly visible place. Employees must know where fire extinguishers are located and how to operate them. Training on how to use a fire extinguisher should be conducted at least annually. Make sure that rechargeable fire extinguishers are serviced and inspected at least once per year.


Does your office have an evacuation route map? In the event of a fire or earthquake, can you easily exit the building? Are there alternative exits in case the main exits are blocked? If you are in a building with an elevator, does your evacuation route show the nearest stairways? Do you have flashlights and spare batteries on hand? Once you are safely out of the building, do you have an emergency meeting place? This is a place where employees, patients, and dentists will meet so each person can be accounted for. This way, taking roll call can determine if anyone was left behind.

I recommend a “grab and go packet.” This is a large manila envelope that contains each employee’s name, allergies, medical conditions, emergency contact information, and days they are scheduled to work. The “grab and go packet” puts all the necessary information at the fingertips of the dentist or office manager.

Also, take a copy of the patient schedule so you can confirm that all patients were able to get out safely. Be sure to take the charts of all patients in the office so their medical and contact information is readily available.

Other items to grab that will help during an emergency:

  • Cell phone (also good for text messaging if circuits are busy)
  • Portable battery-operated radio for emergency broadcasts
  • Water
  • Whistle (works better than yelling)


One of the instructions you may be given for an emergency where hazardous materials may have been released into the atmosphere is called shelter-in-place. Shelter-in-place means selecting a small, interior room, with few or no windows, and taking refuge there. For more information about shelter-in-place, CLICK HERE.

Be prepared

Every dental office should be prepared for emergencies by having emergency protocols in place. This includes training, practice drills, and written plans. Everyone in the office should know the locations of the first aid kit, emergency medical supplies, oxygen tank, and fire extinguisher.

While this article focuses on safety at work, emergency preparedness protocols should also be in place at home. To obtain a list of what to have in an emergency preparedness kit, go to the Red Cross Web site.

For a complementary “grab and go packet” checklist for dental offices, send an e-mail to [email protected].

Author bio
Leslie Canham is a dental speaker and consultant specializing in infection control and OSHA compliance. She has more than 36 years of experience in dentistry. Canham is the founder of Leslie Canham Seminars, providing in-office training, mock inspections, consulting, and online seminars and webinars to help the dental team navigate state and federal regulations. Reach Canham at (888) 853-7543 or Leslie Canham.