Workplace Fire Safety
Workplace fire safety has always been a top concern of business owners. There should be no argument that protecting workers from the harm of fire is a basic component of running a successful and safe business, and a significant element of any health and safety training that is provided to both new starters and long-serving employees alike. Some forget though that workers must also shoulder some of the responsibility for their own safety. Together, businesses and workers can take various steps to improve fire prevention in the workplace.
A fire safety plan already laid out. This fire safety plan should contain three pillars, each acting as a backup if the previous one fails.
- First - prevention methods
- Second - small fire fighting
- Third - an emergency evacuation plan
Pillar 1 - Fire Prevention
Fire prevention can be an easy or difficult task, depending upon the workplace.
For companies that are located in the average office building, fire prevention is a fairly simple task. Companies should not allow the usage of an open flame within the building. No electronic item that is prone to dangerous levels of overheating should be purchased or operated by the company. Office spaces should not have unfinished wood furniture, since these pieces of furniture can act as great kindling if a fire does occur. Although offices are still dangerous places which also require a lot of safety precautions and considerations, they will not contain as many risks, or the severity of risk, that some other places of work exhibit.
Unfortunately, for the companies that are engaged in a field that involves fire or flames as part of the work environment and process, fire prevention is a more difficult and possibly expensive task, although expense should always be a secondary concern next to the primary concern of safety. One method of fire prevention for businesses that utilise open flames is containment. Any usage of an open flame should take place in an area with absolutely no flammable objects around. When dealing with a large open flame, workers should be provided with the appropriate protective equipment. Work with open flames should be quarantined to a specific area or areas. If quarantine is impossible, businesses should make sure that every employee has some sort of protective divider between he or she and the next worker while work is in progress. Whether it be quarantines, dividers, or no separation at all, workers should always be suitably trained by the company to deal with open-flame before any work commences, including the familiarisation, usage and adherence to hot permits to work. Training lowers the risk of not only a fire, but of injury or death.
No matter what industry the company operates in, every business should have regulations and safety controls that forbid workers from using unauthorised open flames and from disposing of hot or burning objects in flammable areas or containers.
Pillar 2 - Small Fire Prevention
If fire prevention fails and a small fire breaks out, companies should have their workers trained in the proper method of how to handle the fire. Employees should also learn how to tell when a fire is "too big to handle." Beyond fire safety training and educational courses like the NEBOSH Fire Certificate, workers should have easy access to fire extinguishers and fire blankets to put out small fires. A heat-sensitive sprinkler system that covers the entire workspace should be installed, which is calibrated properly according to the work environment. For example, a sprinkler system in an office building should be less heat-sensitive than a sprinkler system in a welding factory.
Pillar 3 - Emergency Evacuation
When all else fails, companies must have an emergency evacuation plan. Workers should be familiar enough with this plan that even in moments of utter panic, they will still be able to act. An emergency evacuation plan should detail which exits workers should use to leave the building and where they should assemble after they leave the building. In addition to this, employees should know basic precautions to take when dealing with a dangerous fire. These basic precautions are simple - considering most learned them in primary school - but very important. Workers need to have their knowledge refreshed in these issues to ensure that they have not been forgotten, such as not using lifts in the event of a fire and not re-entering the building to collect possessions until told that it is safe to do so by the fire brigade.
Importance of Regular Fire Drills
Running an evacuation drill once a year is often not enough when the implications of not following it correctly are considered. People forget what they had for lunch within a few hours time, so the likelihood of workers forgetting evacuation procedures within a year is high. A worker not knowing or forgetting the evacuation plan, such as who is responsible for ensuring everybody is out of certain sections of the building, could result in injury or death to themselves and/or somebody else. Businesses which have a higher risk of a fire breaking out, or ones which have significant changes in personnel, workplace layout or process should perform fire and emergency evacuation procedures frequently as well as fire safety training.
Businesses should emphasise the importance on all three pillars of fire safety: fire prevention, small fire fighting, and evacuation procedures. Unfortunately, most businesses neglect the final pillar of fire safety. Workers and companies alike must make sure that everyone knows the proper evacuation procedure, the basics of exiting a smoky and hot building, and the possible backup plans if the evacuation plan, for some reason, proves impossible to enact. Circumstances can always defeat the safety an evacuation plan is supposed to provide. When circumstances become that severe, knowing the primary school basics of fire safety is of the absolute importance.
Most companies have fire prevention covered. There are not many offices in existence that allow workers to do such activities as light candles and smoke and dispose of cigarettes within the building, particularly since the introduction of legislation in many countries banning smoking in public places and places of work. Most companies provide workers with the means of putting out small fires. People would be shocked to come upon a workplace without a single fire extinguisher. Just because two pillars of safety are covered, businesses and workers must always remember that the purpose of the evacuation plan is for when those two pillars fail. Without a well-reviewed evacuation plan, businesses are leaving their worker's safety in the balance, as no safety measures are 100% guaranteed and there is always the potential for an emergency situation such as a fire to occur.
Workers must also take part in the burden of workplace fire safety. If a company neglects one, several, or all of the pillars of fire safety, workers should request managers of the business to improve their fire safety measures. If that fails, workers should take the initiative themselves to better ensure their own safety or anonymously report the company to the relevant authorities.
All this being said, companies and workers need to take account of the risk of fire in the specific workplace they are in and adapt measures accordingly, as there is no one-size-fits-all standard when it comes to fire safety. Having a bi-weekly evacuation drill and 100 fire blankets stored away for the average office work environment would be excessive, whilst doing the same for a pyrotechnic factory may be ideal.
Fire safety, no matter the workplace, is an important issue. Whatever the location of a job, a fire can be dangerous. Businesses and workers alike can lower the likelihood of injury or death from workplace fires by following the three pillars of fire safety mentioned above.