I COULD’VE USED SOME fire safety tips growing up. I’ve set too many stove and oven fires to count, and I never seemed to use the correct method to extinguish them. There’s the time I set off the fire alarm in the middle of church while frying chicken for a luncheon in the back kitchen. The entire congregation had to evacuate for a good 20 minutes until the firemen deemed the building safe again.
Then there’s the incident where I caught a pot holder on fire during one of my first baby-sitting experiences at my house. In my nervousness and eagerness to put the fire out I started flailing the pot holder around, which only ended up catching the runner on top of the piano on fire and sending my little sisters into hysterics.
My fire safety skills didn’t improve much when I went to college. I started two oven fires, the first by overfilling a bunt cake pan while attempting to make monkey bread, causing its contents to overflow into the oven. The second fire started in a similar fashion, except I was making pizza. The problem was less that I started the fire and more that I used water to put it out. The house smelled like smoke for hours.
I was fortunate that the fires I started were small and didn’t cause anyone harm. Fires started in the home can have severe consequences, and those that occur in the workplace can be just as detrimental, if not more. Workplace fires can destroy businesses, put people out of work, cost a lot of money, and result in injuries and deaths. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), more than 3,500 Americans die each year in fires and approximately 18,300 are injured.
It’s extremely important to take measures to prevent fires, as well as know what to do if a fire does happen to occur. Here are some workplace fire safety tips that could help save your life and the lives of those around you:
Fire Prevention Plan
This fire safety tip is directed toward employers. Not all businesses are required to have a fire safety plan in place, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advises employers to be proactive by teaching workers about fire hazards and showing them what to do in a fire emergency.
OSHA states that if your business is required to have a fire emergency action plan in place, you must develop a plan that:
- Describe the routes for workers to use and procedures to follow
- Account for all evacuated employees
- Remain available for employee review
- Include procedures for evacuating disabled employees
- Address evacuation of employees who stay behind to shut down critical plant equipment
- Include preferred means of alerting employees to a fire emergency
- Provide for an employee alarm system throughout the workplace
- Require an alarm system that includes voice communication or sound signals such as bells, whistles, or horns.
- Make the evacuation signal known to employees
- Ensure emergency training
- Require employer review of the plan with new employees and with all employees whenever the plan is changed
Emergency Exits and Routes
In the case of a fire emergency, you want to get everyone out of the facility as quickly as possible. Emergency exits and routes are crucial because they provide a clear path to safety. Here are the qualities of effective emergency exits and routes, as specified by OSHA:
- Must be a permanent part of the building
- Must be provided with a protected way of travel out of the building or out of the area
- May contain way of access of passageways, stairs, aisles and stairwells, ramps, or a series exit doors
- May have ways of access that lead from one area or floor to another or from one building to another
- Must be clear of obstructions
- Must be kept free of explosive or highly flammable furnishings and other decorations
- Must be wide enough to accommodate the number of people trying to get our
- Must be strong enough to support their weight
- Must be properly lighted and marked with EXIT signs
Alarm systems are significant because they alert all employees of a fire emergency, which is the first step in getting to safety. An alarm system may come in the form of a smoke detector, a manual pull box or even a vocal system in which employees alert others by yelling “fire” or some other specified word. If your business is using a smoke detector system the batteries should be changed once a year. When it comes to alarm systems, OSHA recommends knowing:
- The locations of the manual pull boxes or other alarm systems
- How to operate the alarm system
- When the alarm system is to be used
- What the alarm sounds like
- What action to take when the alarm is sounded
Fire extinguishers are one of the most reliable ways to put out fires in the workplace. Fire extinguishers are not a requirement, but if employers choose to provide them they must train workers in general fire extinguisher use to comply with OSHA standards. OSHA states that if employers expect workers to use the fire extinguishers themselves, hands-on training must be provided.
It’s great to know what to do in a fire emergency, but it’s even better to prevent the fire from happening in the first place. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) estimates that electrical fires claim the lives of 280 Americans each year and injure 1,000 more. USFA provides the following precautions to help minimize the risk of a fire:
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
- Keep clothes, curtains, and other items that can catch fire at least three feet from all portable electric space heaters.
- Avoid putting cords where they can be damaged or pinched by furniture, under rugs and carpets, or across doorways.