Developing a comprehensive fire safety plan for businesses

by Staff Writer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics fires and explosions accounted for 109 fatalities in the workplace in 2010, the most since 2003. And even though that’s only 4% of workplace fatalities, many of them are avoidable.

In the year 2000, fires and burns caused $6.2 Billion in productivity losses or about $9 Billion (adjusted for inflation).

Not a small sum of money.

And whether your workplace is mostly office work, kitchen work, or factory work, fire safety is something every business must face head on. That’s why we put together this complete fire safety resource for businesses. A general guideline to help organizations of all kind develop proper safety protocols, policies, employee training, and more.

 

OSHA Fire safety standards – OSHA.gov

Perhaps the first step to achieving a comprehensive fire safety plan for your business is to make sure you’re at the very least following OSHA or OSHA approved state requirements (depending on your state).

While reading through the entire set of OSHA requirements isn’t necessary for all business owners (most of the first few sections deal with building code) the three things that almost all businesses need to have are proper:

Though if your workplace can be categorized in any of the other special industries, there are likely more detailed regulations your business must adhere to. This is the bare minimum.

 

Fire Safety Checklist for Businesses – Minotnd.org [PDF]

This extremely helpful checklist is another great tool to use in order to discover potential problem areas for fire safety in your workplace. Use it to develop a more comprehensive plan for your business, or simply as an occasional checklist to monitor safety devices and requirements.

Some of these things on this checklist may not apply to your workplace, and there may be other items you need to add.  Regardless, this checklist can still act as a great starting point for creating or customizing your own.

 

Fire Prevention – Texas.gov [PDF]

By far the best way to prevent injury or fatalities from fires is to prevent fires from happening in the first place. Having a fire prevention plan is actually a requirement for all businesses, and for those over 10 employees large, it must be in writing and posted in the workplace for all employees to have access. But the requirements for such plans are minimal, at best, and aren’t anything close to a comprehensive fire prevention plan.

Businesses should go out of their way to identify all potential risks for fires within the workplace, and develop clear policies regarding such risks as well as training for employees so they can help be proactive in fire prevention. This short (linked) pamphlet is a good start for most small to medium sized businesses to develop a comprehensive fire prevention plan.

 

Smoke Alarms – NFPA.org [PDF]

Every workplace should have an appropriate (or OSHA required – in some cases) placement and number of smoke and automatic fire alarms. For many larger offices, a central system may even be required. But for smaller offices, regular smoke alarms may work just fine.

Even though the document from NFPA.org is designed for homes, the same advice still applies for businesses:

  • Place an alarm inside every office, and every hallway
  • Larger rooms may need multiple alarms
  • Interconnect alarms
  • Test batteries regularly
  • Replace alarms every 10 years

 

Fire Extinguishers – Seattle.gov [PDF]

Having a fire extinguisher (or a few) in your office can often be the difference between a small fire with minimal damage and a dangerous inferno raging out of control. Most fires start small enough that a simple fire extinguisher can put it out (if caught early enough). Without one, it could be out of control before help arrives, and by then, it’s too late.

Understanding how to use fire extinguishers properly is also a must. Using the wrong type can even sometimes make the fire worse. That’s why it’s important to post information near or on fire extinguisher for how to use them properly. You may even want to have specific training for using a fire extinguisher properly as well. It might just save a life.   At the very least print and post this sheet near all fire extinguishers.

 

Evacuation Plan & Fire Drills – Emory.edu [PDF]

Having an emergency evacuation plan is another requirement of OSHA, and it must be posted publicly for any business over 10 employees. And that’s still probably a very good idea for the smaller organizations as well. Having a plan means considering, clearing, and labeling escape routes, picking a meeting place, as well as developing protocols for headcounts, calling 911, and communicating with rescue teams.

It also means doing regular fire drills to identify slow evacuation times and the need for improved escape routes or even the additional practice for employees.

 

Training & Policy – OhioBWC.com [PDF]

One of the best ways to combat the dangers of fires in the workplace is to have a well trained staff capable of dealing with such unexpected events. But before you can begin to train employees, the company needs to develop a strict policy designed to determine protocols for emergencies and responsibilities within the company. Not simply an evacuation plan, or list of dangerous chemicals, and who handles them. A full comprehensive document addressing all potential dangers of fires and how to deal with them when they happen. The example document (linked) is a very good start.

Include fire safety training for all new employees as well as refresher training every 6 months to a year for the rest. Fire drills make the best training exersizes.

 

Designate office “fire wardens” – UNB.ca

Something just about all organizations should have is designated “fire wardens” within the company. They should ideally be a manager, office manager, or someone in the “front desk” and/or is in the office most regularly (bonus points if they’re also in charge of time-sheets). They’re mainly responsible for making sure everyone gets out of the office safely during drills and real emergencies as well as head-counts at the emergency meeting place.

OSHA actually recommends having at least 1 for every 20 employees. The above (linked) document has a very comprehensive look at fire wardens, their responsibilities as well as a potential hierarchy for much larger organizations/buildings.

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