Workplace fires can devastate a business. Business owners must take action before such a disaster occurs to prevent the worst from happening. Never mind the loss of profits, which can be considerable. Creating a comprehensive fire protection plan will help prevent injury, financial loss, and death.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2019, non-residential structure fires accounted for 9% of all fires reported in the United States, accounting for 110 deaths, 1200 injuries, and $4.3 billion in damage. Effective fire protection plans not only help prevent fires from occurring; they also ensure employees can protect themselves and customers in the event a fire happens on your premises. Local fire safety officials can provide the best advice, helping both you and your employees understand the importance behind the regulations meant to keep workplaces safe.
Equipment & Hardware
Having working fire extinguishers, smoke/fire alarms, and sprinkler systems should be part of any business fire protection plan. The fire codes in your area, facility size, and type of industry will help determine what sort of equipment your business needs. Not only do these devices and systems help identify and control fires, mitigating damage, and potential injuries, they can also keep insurance costs down.
Fire extinguishers need to be inspected and serviced regularly to ensure they’re functional when you need them. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to fire extinguishers:
- Check dates on the service tag to ensure a licensed fire extinguisher maintenance contractor has checked them within the past year.
- Confirm fire extinguishers are where they should be, easily accessible and visible.
- Look at the operating instructions to make sure instructions face outward and are easily readable.
- Look at the pressure gauge monthly; when green, it’s in good working order.
- Make sure the locking pin is intact, and the tamper seal is unbroken.
- Note any apparent damage, including corrosion, leakage, or clogged nozzles.
It’s also essential to confirm that pressure gauges are in the correct positions and that your extinguishers are full. Depending on local fire codes, it’s also important to investigate whether you have enough fire extinguishers for the size of your premises and type of business.
When it comes to fire and smoke alarms, ensure to test them regularly. Such systems save businesses money on insurance, reducing liability should a fire occur, though only when these tests are accurately documented. Because of this, municipalities and states have specific regulations that require regular testing to ensure these systems work when you need them. Regular testing also helps prevent false alarms.
Similarly, you should have sprinkler systems inspected to make sure they operate correctly in case of fire. For these systems ensure that:
- Specific codes for sprinkler systems are being followed by checking with local authorities.
- There is clearance of 18-24 inches, so water flows readily.
- Sprinkler heads are unobstructed.
Often overlooked, fire doors are another critical structural safety feature and should be inspected as part of any fire protection plan. These doors help isolate fires, preventing smoke and flame from spreading. Fire doors are only effective, however, if kept closed. Keep them unobstructed and ensure that they’re not kept propped open.
While having proper equipment and systems in place is an integral part of any fire protection plan, the human element is even more critical. Ensuring employees understand how systems work and how to utilize fire safety equipment and procedures should be an essential part of the training.
Educate your employees on:
- How to safely and properly use fire extinguishers.
- Keeping fire lanes clear of employee or company vehicles to keep them clear for emergency vehicles.
- Proper evacuation procedures.
- The dangers of keeping fire doors propped open.
Conducting regular fire drills several times a year will help employees stay calm in case of a real emergency. Designate areas outside the building that are far enough to keep employees safe from shattered glass, flying debris, noxious fumes, or heat. It’s a good idea to treat these drills as you would an actual fire by doing a headcount at these regrouping areas.
Detailing the evacuation of all buildings that generally house employees should be part of any fire protection plan, with careful attention to any employees with special needs or whose primary language isn’t used during training. Ensure employees are aware of these difficulties so that they can assist others in case of evacuation.
It’s also a good idea to post emergency contact information in work and break areas, translating these into employees’ primary languages.
Promoting Safety & Prevention in the Workplace
Preventing fires is inevitably easier and less costly than putting them out. Identifying potential hazards is particularly important for developing a fire protection plan. Again, employees will play a crucial role in this.
The 3 main components that fire requires:
- Heat source
Interestingly, cooking accounts for 30% of workplace fires, and this isn’t limited to restaurants. According to Electrical Contractor Magazine, electricity accounts for 22% of workplace fires. For both types of fires, keeping combustible and flammable materials away from heat sources – whether for cooking, heating, or merely providing electricity – should be an essential part of any workplace fire protection plan.
5 electrical equipment basics to keep in mind:
- Don’t overload plugs in an outlet.
- Don’t substitute extension cords for permanent wiring or overload them, and disconnect them once you’re finished.
- Identify machines that can act as ignition sources and keep these off when unattended.
- Keep electrical panels clear – by at least three feet – so that employees have easy access to cut power.
- Regularly inspect electrical outlets and junction boxes for exposed wiring.
You should also check in on points where electrical cabling or conduits go through walls, ceilings, or flooring for fire-resistant caulking, mortar, foam, or other sealants. Such materials, required by most fire codes, ensure that flame and smoke can’t quickly move from room to room.
Electricity can easily ignite flammable materials – such as explosive chemicals, gas tanks or cylinders, paper, wood, and cardboard boxes – keep these as far away from heat sources as possible. Simple workplace organization is an integral part of any fire protection plan.