‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ – Benjamin Franklin
We often associate this expression maintaining good health to prevent illness. However, when he spoke these words, Benjamin Franklin was actually discussing the importance of fire safety.
While it is important to have a plan in place should a fire break out in your place of business, preventing a fire from happening in the first place is your first step to keeping your workplace safe.
Fire Safety Tips for Your Business
Having a thoughtful plan in place to prevent the likelihood of a fire in your business can help protect your assets and employees.
Prevent fires from occurring in the workplace by following these tips:
Proper Waste Disposal
Fire hazards – such as oily rags – can pose a huge risk of fire.
Be sure they are kept in a covered metal container until taken and emptied into an outside garbage receptacle. The sooner, the better.
Machines are often necessary to keep business moving forward, but they can pose a fire hazard if not properly cared for.
Assure that workplace machines receive regular maintenance to reduce the risk of friction sparks or overheating. Keep a record of routine maintenance.
Report Electrical Hazards
One of the leading contributors to workplace fires is malfunctioning electrical equipment and faulty wiring.
If something doesn't look right immediately notify your maintenance staff or contact a licensed electrician. Never try to make electrical repairs yourself; you could put yourself and your business in danger.
Chemical Use & Storage
Chemicals may be necessary for your business operations but if they are misused or inappropriately stored they can pose a huge fire hazard.
Be sure to always read both the material safety data sheet and label all chemicals or hazardous materials that are kept in your workplace.
Assure that employees only use chemicals with proper protective equipment in a well-ventilated area and store as directed to reduce the risk of fire.
Arson is one of the most common causes of commercial fires.
Be sure that your facilities are always fully locked at night and that suspicious people/ activities are reported to the authorities. Never leave garbage receptacles with flammables near the exterior of your building.
An extra precaution that you can take is hiring a security guard to monitor the premises during off hours so that your business is never left unwatched.
A misplaced cigarette butt can spell disaster.
Designate specific areas for smoking and offer safety ashtrays to ensure that employees don't accidentally start a blaze.
Add signs in the smoking area to remind those who use it about the importance of extinguishing cigarette butts to avoid the risk of fire.
An orderly workplace not only makes for a better work environment, it makes for a safer one as well. Unnecessary clutter becomes an obstacle in the case of an emergency but can also fuel a fire. Without clutter to feed a fire, a clean workspace can slow the spread of flames and make it easier to put a fire out.
Electrical control panels should never be blocked. Used to shut down power in the event of an emergency, you want to make sure that there is no equipment or other materials making accessibility to electrical control panels difficult. In the same vein, fire-fighting equipment, sprinklers, and emergency exits should be free of obstacles that could slow access.
Portable Fire Extinguishers
OSHA requires all businesses to keep proper fire extinguishers on hand, but what that means varies by business.
For example, if you run a restaurant and at risk of grease fires, you will need an extinguisher suited for putting one out. Adversely, if you run an automobile repair shop your business will need an extinguisher that is designated for putting out electrical fires.
Be sure your employees are trained in using extinguishers!
Once installed, fire extinguishers need to be checked and tested according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Document all inspections.
Fire Suppression Systems
Fire suppression systems sound an alarm and automatically start spraying water, and alert the proper authorities when a fire is detected.
Most workplaces are required to have this important safety feature in place and – once installed – need to keep up with regular maintenance and inspections to assure that it will stop the spread of fire.
Every workplace should have a written emergency action plan in place that outlines the fire emergency procedures as well as the location of all exit routes. Also, be sure that your staff knows the plan for accounting for all employees after the evacuation of the workplace. The plan must be posted somewhere that employees can easily review it and should include a plan for any employees that are physically impaired.
Never assume that cooler heads will prevail during an emergency. Be sure to thoroughly and regularly train employees in what they should do if an emergency occurs so that everyone has a clear understanding of what to do.
Regularly stage fire drills, providing employees a time to walk through evacuation procedures. Be sure that the drill includes all proper lockdown procedures are followed and that everyone is accounted for.
The most important thing in any emergency is that everyone gets out safely.
Be sure that both employees and customers have a clear path to get out should your business catch fire. Requiring that all workplace buildings have at least two fire exits that are well distanced from one another, OSHA allows that these exits can be a window, door, or other space that a large adult can crawl through to access the outdoors.
It is also required that those fire exits are kept clear, free of any obstructions that could slow evacuation and that they are marked clearly with lit exit signs.
Implementing thoughtful fire prevention and comprehensive emergency planning can save not only your business assets but also – more importantly – your employees lives.