While fires in the workplace hopefully do not occur often, it is important to understand what to do when they do occur. This article will outline the importance of having a plan in place and what actions to take when a fire does break out.

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Why Is it Important to Prepare for a Workplace Fire?

According to the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 3,340 fires occur in office workplaces every year. These fires can cause huge financial hardship, emotional stress, and even death of employees. Having a plan is important so that:

  • Employees know how to act. When fires occur, it can create pandemonium. People start panicking and are not sure what to do. With a plan in place, the fire will still create a stressful situation, but employees will be better prepared and know what to do.
  • Safety for all employees. Having a plan in place ensures that employees keep each other safe. If an employee isn’t prepared and doesn’t know how to act when a fire occurs, they are putting others at risk as well. If employees are prepared, they will be better suited to help others.
  • Potential company hardship. Fires cause financial, emotional, physical, and even legal hardships. Preparing for a workplace fire protects the company as well as employees.

OSHA Requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates safety in the workplace. You need to be aware of the basic requirements it imposes for fire safety, including:

  • Exits. There needs to be enough exits in a work facility. How many exits are required depends on the size of the building, its layout, what type of business it is, how many people are exposed, and what fire protection is available. Refer to OSHA for specific stipulations.
  • Fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers may not be required, but proper training for employees is required if they are in the building.
  • Prevention and planning. These are required by OSHA. Refer to OSHA for more details on what is required for a specific building. Evacuation routes must be posted in a visible area as part of the prevention plan.

Common Causes of Workplace Fires

There are many ways for workplace fires to start either intentionally or unintentionally. Understanding how they can start helps you prevent them.

Faulty Equipment

One of the most common causes of fires in the workplace is faulty equipment. One example is defective wires or an overheating computer,  which can lead to sparks occurring and something catching fire.

Clutter

Another common cause of fire in the workplace is clutter. When an office gets cluttered, things that are flammable might end up by each other. When this happens, fires can spread quickly. Clutter also makes it difficult to see at a glance where the fire originated or what kind of fire it could be, which is important information to have in deciding how to react.

Human Error

Fires can occur due to an employee being careless or forgetful. This could include food being left unattended in the microwave or oven or faulty machinery or equipment not being reported. Employees need to be mindful of things that could cause fires.

Arson

This is the most obvious way a fire could occur in the workplace. A former or disgruntled employee might decide to take their frustrations out on the company by starting a fire.

How to Prevent Workplace Fires

Prevention is as or more important than response plans. Here are a few tips for preventing workplace fires:

Tip 1: Maintain Fire Alarms

Every office should have fire alarms. Make sure your building is up to code and has fire alarms in every room. Change the batteries in the fire alarms at least once a year.

Tip 2: Ensure Cleanliness

Keeping the workplace clean helps avoid clutter and keeps you aware of potential issues that could cause fires. It also helps a company stay aware of the equipment they have and ensure it is in a safe area.

Tip 3: Store Things Correctly

Fires can sometimes occur when things that shouldn’t be next to each other end up next to each other, such as flammable chemicals being stored next to something that can easily catch fire. Storing things correctly also helps avoid clutter and sustains awareness of fire risk.

How to Protect Your Employees From a Workplace Fire

Employee safety should be a company’s first priority. How a company decides to protect their employees from fire puts employees at ease and shows them you consider their safety important. Here are three steps you can take to keep your employees safe:

Step 1: Provide Safety Training

The first step is proper training. Every employee should know what steps need to be taken to prevent or respond to a workplace fire. Train employees on what can cause fires or what might be unsafe.

Step 2: Install Proper Equipment and Post Guidelines

Make sure all the resources needed are provided to employees so they can stay safe. Employees should know the locations of all fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and all exits.

Step 3: Have a Response Plan

Make sure every employee knows the evacuation plan when a fire does happen. Someone in each office area should be appointed the lead, such as a fire safety coordinator, so there is someone to help manage the situation in each area.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Workplace Fires

Make sure everyone is accounted for during the evacuation. It may help to have a list of current employees in a “go bag” that leadership grabs on the way out of the building. Employees must also be trained to make sure they are taking care of themselves so they can help others.
Do a roll call to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for. Work with the fire department to figure out what caused the fire, record what things might have been damaged in the fire, and decide how fire can be prevented in the future.
Tanner Pierce, PHR

Tanner has over 4 years of HR professional experience in various fields of HR. He has experience in hiring, recruiting, employment law, unemployment, onboarding, outboarding, and training to name a few. Most of his experience comes from working in the Professional Employer and Staffing Industries. He has a passion for putting people in the best position to succeed and really tries to understand the different backgrounds people come from.

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