Protecting Your Business from Fire Risk

By BNET Editorial published on BNET.com 3/27/2007

Fires not only endangering life, but they can also be a serious blow to any business. In this article we give suggestions on how to cut the risk of fires occurring and measures you can take to minimize damage and danger should one occur. We also explain the legal obligations that businesses have to protect people in the workplace. What You Need to KnowHow can I find out about my legal obligations as a business owner? In the U.S., fire safety is regulated by each state, so specific requirements vary by the state. Each state has a public safety office, fire marshal’s office, or similar agency enforcing the regulations, and that office can give you information on the requirements for business. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) approves and monitors state guidelines and offers useful information to businesses on its web site. How do I assess my business’s fire risk? Essentially, a risk assessment means looking at all aspects of the workplace from the standpoint of fire safety: dimensions and layout, substances used or stored on site, number of occupants and what they do on site, etc. Look for hazards such as combustibles, flammables, and sources of ignition, and consider who will be at risk or what damage may occur if fire starts. Look for places where fire will spread rapidly, or where people might be trapped or injured trying to escape. Use your findings to try to reduce the chances of a fire occurring and to take steps to reduce death, injury, or damage to property should a fire occur. Inform employees of the assessment findings and enlist their cooperation in drawing up an emergency plan for what to do in the event of a fire: where to find an escape route, how to inform emergency services, etc. What to DoReduce Risk Many fire risks can be reduced quickly and inexpensively. Move combustible/flammable materials away from sources of ignition, and remove the ignition sources themselves if possible. Clear away everything from corridors, stairways, and exits. Trash is a major fire hazard, so do not allow trash to build up on the premises. Make sure your fire detection system meets legal requirements and operates properly. Similarly ensure that on-site fire fighting equipment works effectively and that employees know how to use it. If structural features of the workplace add to the risk, you may need to consider renovation. Set Up Warning Systems Make sure you comply with regulations regarding fire warning systems on your premises. While fire detection may be rapid in a business with an open floor plan or rooms that are always occupied, fires in storage areas or other unoccupied areas can become extremely serious before they are detected.

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Ensure that your fire detection system sounds an adequate alarm throughout the premises, and test the system frequently to make sure it stays operational. Provide and Identify Escape Routes The normal ways in and out will often be sufficient in a fire, but they may be blocked by the fire itself, so be sure to designate additional means of escape to get people to safety as quickly as possible. You may want to rearrange the workplace to provide quicker access to escape routes. Consider what you expect employees to do before leaving, for example, shutting down machines or checking that areas are clear. Make sure employees know exactly what to do in a fire and conduct frequent drills, so in a real emergency they can perform these tasks and get to safety quickly. Have on hand an up-to-date list of people who are in the building so you can determine if anyone has been left inside. Doors should open easily in the direction of escape, and exits should be adequately marked and properly lit. Because states have specific requirements regarding fire escape doors, emergency lighting, etc., ask a fire marshal to visit your premise and advise you on providing escape routes. Provide a Means of Fighting the Fire Check with state fire authorities to find out whether your premises require a sprinkler system or other on-site fire-fighting equipment. In obtaining fire extinguishers, fire blankets, or other equipment, make sure you purchase equipment that is adequate for the size and conditions of your premises. Make sure all your employees know where the equipment is stored and when and how to use it properly. Be sure to check and test all equipment routinely according to the product specifications. Prepare Your Staff for Emergencies You must ensure that all employees know what to do if fire occurs: how to sound the alarm, find and use fire extinguishers, help other people, find escape routes, etc. Written instructions should be displayed in the workplace and given to every employee. Fire procedures should be explained personally to new employees and anyone spending significant time on the premises. You may wish to name one or more employees as Fire Safety Officers, provide them training in fire prevention and safety, and give them specific responsibilities to train staff and provide direction in fire emergencies. Act in the Event of Fire When a fire is discovered, call the emergency services at once! You or your employees may try to extinguish the fire, but do not put yourselves at risk in doing so. Implement your plan for clearing the building and ensuring that everyone is evacuated to safety. Do not return to the building until fire authorities say it is safe. What to AvoidYou Don’t Update Risk Assessments Risk assessments and fire plans should be reviewed regularly, especially after changes in the physical workplace, the activities conducted, or the staff. You Fail to Consult Proper Authorities

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OSHA or your state public safety or fire marshal’s office can help you ensure that you comply with regulations and that you are following fire safety best practices. You Fail to Inform Employees of the Procedures Your fire plan does no good unless all employees are fully informed on what to do and how to help themselves and others. Where to Learn MoreBook: Craighead, Geoff. High-Rise Security and Fire Life Safety. 2nd ed. Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003. Web Sites: FS [Fire Safety]-World: www.fs-world.com National Safety Council: www.nsc.org Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): www.osha.gov

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