Workplace Fire Safety: 6 Prevention Tips
Workplace fires are devastating to life and operations. Protect your organization from the flames with our life-saving fire prevention tips.
Few scenarios are more frightening than a workplace fire. Unpredictable, life-threatening, and difficult to recover from, a major fire in the workplace can disrupt operations for weeks or even months. Not to mention, your people’s lives are on the line, and it’s your responsibility to protect them with emergency action plans. Smoke detectors alone aren’t enough.
Illustrating what’s at stake, the U.S. Fire Administration has reported that fatalities from these nonresidential fires have been on the rise over the past decade. Not including 35 deaths from a single incident in 2016 that resulted in a sharp peak, the overall increase in deaths related to nonresidential building fires was 52% between 2011 and 2020.
Protecting your organization from the threat of fires begins with prevention. While some situations are out of a company’s control (wildfires or arson, for example), most workplace fires can be avoided by understanding fire hazards and taking precautions.
The first step is to assess the unique risks of your structure, facility, or site so you can understand how to avoid a fire or mitigate the impact if one does occur.
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6 Workplace Fire Safety Tips: Prevention & Response
1. Assign fire safety roles
If your organization hasn’t assigned at least one person (ideally, a team of people) to oversee fire safety, this should be your organization’s first priority.
Every business should find at least one person to serve as their fire warden. Some candidates who might make sense for the role include your company’s office manager, facility manager, safety manager, or human resources manager.
This person or team should develop a clear understanding of what conditions might lead to a workplace fire and how your organization currently sizes up.
Fire warden tasks:
- Assist in implementing and improving effective emergency procedures in your workplace
- Conduct a thorough walkthrough of your company’s workspace to assess fire hazards
- Raise awareness (with both leadership and staff) about existing fire hazards
- Document risk areas and work with leadership to resolve them
- Help prevent emergencies by evaluating fire risk control measures
- Educate employees on how to respond to an emergency
- Plan and execute regular fire drills
- Continue with routine fire prevention walkthroughs
Keep in mind that it’s important to assign a specific person responsible for workplace fire risk and prevention.
Other fire safety tasks:
Someone needs to be in charge of overall fire prevention efforts. But if your organization has more than 50 people, fire planning can become complicated. You’ll need to build a team of responsible individuals who can help the fire warden with important tasks. Delegate the following responsibilities:
- Maintain accountability of individuals and reporting to leadership
- Ensure doors are closed and evacuation routes are clear
- Assist mobility-impaired staff
- Ensure affected areas are clear
- Collect stragglers during evacuations and drills
2. Identify risks in the workplace
The threat of most workplace fires could be extinguished well before the initial spark. In fact, there are a variety of factors that place a business at higher risk of a fire incident. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) lists some of the most common causes of workplace fires in an effort to educate every employee. While the following list is not comprehensive, it does cover the most common workplace fire hazards:
- Cooking appliances
- Electrical equipment
- Power strips and other electrical hazards
- Lighting equipment
- Smoking materials
- Office/entertainment equipment
Common causes of workplace fires
Your fire warden should conduct a thorough walkthrough of your organization’s structure, keeping a critical eye on the high-risk areas listed above. Once a potential hazard has been identified, they should develop plans to fix the issue, educate employees on proper use, or remove the risk entirely.
3. Pay attention to fire-prone areas
Because there are varying factors from one industry to the next, there is no workplace fire safety panacea that’s going to work across the board. That said, there are common areas within many conventional work environments that should be viewed as higher risk.
Just under one-fifth of reported workplace fires started in an office kitchen or cooking area. Any structure with a kitchen containing a toaster oven, microwave, or heating appliance is vulnerable.
It should also be noted that while only 15% of fires were caused by electrical problems, those fires were responsible for 46% of direct property damage. Of course, every area of the office should be given equal attention, but it’s helpful to understand fire-prone areas of your workspace and what points of origin produce the most damage.
There are also general workplace safety precautions every business should take to lessen the impact if a fire does occur. These include minimizing loose paper throughout the office, properly storing flammable materials, and instructing all employees on fire response prevention and protocol.
Maintain functional appliances (in the kitchen and elsewhere) and conduct routine electrical inspections to help mitigate the risk of a fire incident.
4. Understand industry needs
In 1991, a Hamlet, North Carolina, poultry plant with 90 employees inside went up in flames. One of the plant’s deep fryers ignited into a fireball that quickly spread throughout the structure. Many of the emergency exits were locked, the building’s fire sprinkler system and other fire suppression systems failed, and the company had no fire evacuation plan in place.
Sadly, 25 workers perished in the fire.
In its 11 years in operation, the plant had never received a proper safety inspection. It’s clear the loss of life could have been mitigated had the facility been equipped with a proper fire extinguishing system, functional exits, and a rehearsed evacuation plan.
Businesses will have specific industry considerations when it comes to fire safety. For example, the Hamlet poultry plant required a specialized carbon dioxide fire extinguisher above their fryers that likely would not exist outside of a food manufacturing or restaurant environment.
The banking industry, with a dispersed office environment, will have multiple branches to take into consideration. In addition to bank tellers and employees, banks will need to protect customers in the event of a structural fire.
Similarly, the healthcare industry has a wide variety of staff they’ll need to keep safe (nurses, doctors, technicians) as well as patients to consider in the event of a fire. Evacuation is rarely the best option for hospitals since many patients will be unable to get to safety. That’s why prevention is so important in the healthcare industry. AlertMedia’s Hospital Fire Safety Checklist is designed to help do just that.
Understanding the industry-specific fire risks your place of business faces is essential to maintaining a safe work environment.
5. Educate employees on fire safety guidelines
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires organizations, depending on specific industries and hazardous materials present, to follow strict fire safety and evacuation guidelines. In addition, businesses have a duty of care to their employees. This legal and moral responsibility requires that employers do everything within their power to keep their people out of harm’s way.
But regardless of the legal obligation, every organization should be committed to a safe working environment. And that begins with education.
The following OSHA fire prevention guidelines can help businesses fulfill their duty of care and train employees on fire prevention and safety.
Every organization’s fire prevention plan should be done in writing, posted visibly in the workplace, and made available for all employees to review. Some key components:
- Clearly articulate all major fire hazards
- Instruct employees on how to properly handle and store hazardous materials
- Educate employees on potential ignition sources and their control
- Communicate what fire protection equipment is in place to handle each major hazard
- Point out the location of posted signage, like exit signs
- Demonstrate proper use of safety equipment like portable fire extinguishers
- Communicate evacuation protocol and how to use your company’s fire alarm system and emergency notification system
- Include procedures to control the accumulation of flammable liquids and combustible waste materials
- Include safeguards on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials
- Develop a list that contains the names/job titles of internal fire safety wardens
It should be noted that employers must inform their people of any fire hazards they could be exposed to while performing on the job. In addition, employers should review the fire prevention plan with all employees.
6. Use fire safety resources
Protecting your business from workplace fires starts with understanding the risks your organization faces. The task might feel overwhelming, which is why guided fire safety resources are a great starting place.
If your people’s lives could be threatened by fires (and there are few instances where everyone is completely safe), you can’t afford to overlook any step of fire preparedness. AlertMedia’s fire safety checklist is pre-built to cover every aspect of fire preparedness for businesses, from tools and equipment like fire detection systems and smoke alarms to communication and review strategies, for both pre- and post-fire efforts.
Part of that checklist will require you to create and post a fire evacuation plan, including a floor plan, so employees have an accessible visual aid to remind them of escape routes in a fire emergency. This fire evacuation plan should be custom-made for your business and its precise layout, but our template can help start you on the right path to develop your own.
Prevention Starts Today
Our six tips above all have one thing in common: You need to check them off before a fire breaks out at your workplace. You’ll probably never know when a fire is going to spark, so you need to prioritize activating these elements of fire prevention to be ready without warning.