With so many demands on your time, it’s tempting to put workplace fire safety planning on the back burner—after all, a fire might not seem very likely in your office building. Yet in only a matter of minutes, a fire can cause unimaginable destruction, putting the lives of your staff and customers at risk while threatening the business you’ve worked so hard for. Across the United States each year, there are thousands of office fires, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage. Don’t let your business become one of these statistics—check out our fire safety in the workplace tips.
Maintain Your Fire Safety Equipment
Fire safety tips in the workplace begin with adhering to the required minimum standards. Each year, your local fire marshall visits your facility to ensure that your building is up to code, your fire extinguishers are in service, and your smoke alarm and sprinkler systems are functional. While complying with this visit is highly important, it doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook for the rest of the year. Rather, fire safety should be embedded in your daily business practices.
Every business owner needs to know what fire protection equipment is required at their facility, and what their responsibilities are for maintaining it. For most equipment, such as alarm and sprinkler systems, professional testing once or twice per year is required, with the specific schedule depending on the type of technology in place, the type of building you have, and the local codes in your area.
Beyond these tests, however, you may still be responsible for regular equipment inspections—for instance, checking the batteries in alarms or checking the lights in illuminated exit signs. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of what to look for, and reach out to a professional technician for clarification if you need it.
On the outside of your building, your responsibilities are more clear-cut:
- Fire escapes should be kept free of obstructions.
- Fire lanes should be well-marked, and no one should be parking in them at any time.
- If there is a fire hydrant on the property, vegetation around it should be cut back and snow should be promptly cleared from it.
Eliminate Common Fire Hazards
Creating a safe working environment starts with eliminating fire hazards. Consider all possible scenarios that could result in a fire, and then update your workplace’s policies and procedures to prevent them.
Cooking is the top cause of fires in offices and stores, according to the National Fire Protection Association—and not surprisingly, the peak time for these is 12–2 PM: lunchtime. Think about how your staff heats up their lunch. Do they have individual hot plates in their offices? Are they bringing in cooking equipment from home? If so, it’s time to put a new rule in place: only company-provided appliances in the kitchen or breakroom should be used to cook or heat up meals.
Electrical and heating equipment are the second and third leading causes of office fires, respectively. This means that you should regularly check all cords and cables for signs of fraying or other damage, and inspect all outlets to ensure they’re not overloaded. There should also be a clear procedure for employees to report any electrical hazards they notice around the building.
Space heaters tend to be a hot topic in office buildings, with many employees wondering if they violate the general fire safety tips at work. Most newer space heaters are safe when used responsibly—meaning they are kept on the floor (not on a desk or other furniture), never left unattended, plugged directly into an outlet (never an extension cord), unplugged when not in use, and they are inspected for damage frequently. While these rules are simple enough to follow at home, they can be easily overlooked in the workplace, especially when employees assume that someone else will take care of it. The best bet is usually to ban space heaters from the office.
Unfortunately, the fourth leading cause of workplace fires is one that all businesses are susceptible to: arson. While intentional fires are far less common, they cause the largest share of damage to office properties. A security system—which might incorporate video surveillance, intrusion detection, and 24/7 alarm monitoring—can help deter this threat and keep your business safe.
Plan, Post, and Maintain Fire Escape Routes
A fire can cause panic, and employees may not immediately head for the nearest exits, even in small buildings. That’s why it’s important to carefully plan escape routes from all areas of your facility. (Use OSHA’s Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool for help with this.) Post diagrams of these routes in prominent spots—at least one on each floor—to allow employees to get familiar with them.
Then, make sure the routes you’ve planned remain free of barriers. Can windows be opened easily, and the screens removed? Are there boxes or other obstacles blocking the way of an emergency exit?
Practice Fire Drills Regularly
When your evacuation routes have been established, conduct regular fire drills with your staff, making sure that all team members know what to and where to go in the event of a fire:
- Everyone should immediately evacuate the building, and 911 should be called. All staff should be alerted when an evacuation is necessary, so employees should know how to trigger the alarm, if needed.
- Key staff members may be assigned to check bathrooms for others and to close main interior doors (when feasible) before evacuating.
- Remain calm and walk, don’t run.
- If the building has multiple floors, take the stairs, not the elevator.
- Everyone should gather at a designated meeting place, where a key staff person should be assigned to perform a headcount. Emphasize how important it is for staff not to wander off or head to their cars—if they go unaccounted for, firefighters may end up searching needlessly for them.
- Once evacuated, no one should return into the building until given permission by fire officials.
Don’t Put Your Business at Risk.
A fire could take everything from you—so do everything you can to prevent the worst from happening. Don’t settle for out-of-the-box installations. With a custom commercial fire detection system, ISG can ensure your business has the best protection possible.