Each year, workers are injured in workplace fires, many of which were preventable. There were 209 fatalities from 2015 to 2016 caused by fires and explosions in the workplace. Along with loss of life, workplace fires can devastate a business, destroying property, stock, and profits. They can also cause insurance premium hikes that can permanently disable a company and drive it to bankruptcy.
Even if just a single employee gets injured, the cost can still have a major impact on your future success. According to one Philadelphia workers compensation lawyer, companies are expected to pay compensation to injured employees for up to 500 weeks, which can be a major drain on finances. Additionally, indirect costs like loss of productivity and overtime payments can be impressive.
Where Do Fires Occur?
The majority of workplace fires occur at industrial and manufacturing properties, most often caused by mechanical failures and equipment malfunctions. While industrial and manufacturing properties are most regularly victims of fire, office properties, retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses are also at risk. That’s why it’s essential to ensure that fire prevention strategies are in place to mitigate their risks.
Even once fire prevention, detection, and escape strategies are in place, businesses should remain vigilant. Ensure each employee is aware, trained, and regularly tested on putting the plan into action with randomized fire drills and training on fire safety protocols.
Fire extinguishers, blankets, doors, sprinklers, and other fire-suppression equipment should be made available throughout the business premises. Train key employees so they are able to operate equipment effectively in the event of a fire.
How to Choose Appropriate Equipment
The proper equipment for reducing damage to property or loss of life from a fire at work is vast. It includes fire extinguishers, sprinklers, blankets, suppression systems, alarms, emergency lighting, exit signs, and more.
Each business has differing needs. It is important for owners to carry out a thorough on-site hazard analysis to identify potential risks and put in place appropriate protocols for dealing with a fire and preventing one from starting in the first place. Additional prevention work should include training employees and the purchase of appropriate equipment.
Fire extinguishers vary in type and businesses need to ensure that the types purchased for their premises are adequate for the kinds of fires that can be anticipated. Choosing the right extinguisher is an essential element of a fire prevention plan. Water- or carbon dioxide-based extinguishers are the perfect choice for wood-fueled fires but can cause an explosion if used on sodium or potassium.
Placement of fire extinguishers and other fire prevention or suppression equipment is also important. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule for placement or quantity of equipment. But, as a general guide, one water-based or foam extinguisher (3 liters or bigger) for every 2000 square foot or 200 square meters of floor space should be adequate for most businesses.
Where to Store Fire Prevention Equipment
All fire prevention and suppression equipment should be placed as close as possible to the area it is most likely to be used. Every second counts when a fire breaks out in a workplace. Travelling more than 75 feet, through more than two doors, or to a different level of the building to reach a fire extinguisher is unacceptable. Poor positioning of fire-fighting equipment could result in the death of an employee.
Signs should be placed throughout a workplace that indicate where fire extinguishers and other equipment can be found. These posters should give employees an indication of which types of fires they can be used on. It is also useful to ensure emergency signage is photoluminescent so it can be seen and read in emergency situations.
Inspecting, Maintaining, and Testing Fire Prevention Equipment
Once a fire prevention and suppression strategy is in place and the business has been equipped with the appropriate fire safety equipment, it is important that all extinguishers are inspected monthly to ensure they remain undamaged and full.
Other fire safety equipment should also be checked and tested where possible to ensure it is in good working order. Damaged or drained equipment will exacerbate the effects of a fire and put employees in even more danger.
Monthly inspections should be recorded either in central documentation or on the equipment’s tag. Annual checks are required by law. These must be recorded, and the record of inspections have to be kept for a minimum of one year after the last entry or of the life of the equipment.
Extinguishers designed for chemical fed fires must be hydrostatically tested every 12 months. They must also be emptied, maintained and refilled every six years. Non-refillable, disposable containers are exempt from hydrostatic testing and maintenance requirements.
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Fire Safety Training for Employees
When fire extinguishers and other safety equipment is supplied for employee use, it is imperative that training on how to use these items is given. This guidance should aim to familiarize employees with the equipment and provide instruction on how they should be used along with the dangers of doing so. New recruits should receive fire safety training as part of their induction, and each employee must be given refresher training each year.
Successful fire prevention strategies require the support of careful planning, provision of equipment, and preparation through risk assessments and training. If all measures have been taken, a business has a far better chance of surviving a fire and stopping a blaze in the incipient stage. Doing so will prevent it from becoming a conflagration capable of destroying the business and any hope of a future.
Guest blog by Rae Steinbach
Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.