National Fire Prevention Week 2019 is October 6 to 12. The brainchild of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), this seven-day awareness period is meant to help both households and business owners understand the dangers of fires, as well as offer crucial fire safety tips to help stem the blaze before it gets out of hand.
Fires represent a major hazard for organizations and private individuals, both in terms of personal danger and cost to repair the damage. But first, a little good news: Major structure fires are nowhere near as common as they used to be. According to figures compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), they're down 6.2 percent from 2008, while fire injuries have fallen 15.8 percent. Unfortunately, deaths increased by 9.6 percent and property losses cost 12 percent more on average.
Fire Safety Statistics
That said, these statistics may be a cold comfort if you own one of the businesses impacted by a major fire. Consider these sobering numbers from the USFA:
- Approximately 111,000 nonresidential fires occurred in 2017
- Roughly 1 in 10 property fires are nonresidential
- Just over 30 percent of these fires stem from cooking-related activities
- 11 percent are accidental and caused by "carelessness"
Struggling with Fire Safety Planning
Fires at businesses are still disturbingly common, but what might be even more worrisome is that many workplaces don't have plans that ensure employees are protected when emergencies, such as fires, transpire. According to a CareerBuilder poll, 21 percent of respondents said their company didn't have an emergency plan in place for disaster scenarios, such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or fires.
Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, said everything takes a backseat to emergency management.
"Ensuring a safe and secure work environment should be of the utmost importance in any workplace," Haefner warned. "Keeping employees protected means not only putting measures in place to keep them safe, but making sure employees are aware of the policies and procedures that can protect themselves, too." Not only are many employees ill-prepared for urgent situations, but some business owners are dropping the ball on compliance measures designed to mitigate the risk of fires by addressing their root causes. As noted in a recent posting for the NFPA's blog Xchange, many electrical injuries and fires that have occurred in recent years could have been avoided had businesses complied with the rules and compliance protocols found in NFPA 70E, which lists some of the best practices to help protect personnel from shock, arc flash and electrocution hazards.
"There are multiple reasons for not following electrical safety procedures," wrote Richard Campbell of the Fire Protection Research Foundation. "There's possible fatigue that clouds decision-making, insufficient awareness of hazards due to inadequate training, and pressure to get the job done. Another contributor is routine shortcuts in safety protocols [such as] deviations from safety protocols not recognized as deviant."
The 5 Fire Safety Tips You Need to Know
The day-to-day pressures of running a business and managing employees may be difficult; but implementing workplace safety protocols is simple. Here are a few crucial fire safety tips that can help you and your staff members avoid workplace fire hazards:
- Label fire hazards: The best fire safety measure is, of course, fire prevention. By clearly installing signage that denotes flammable materials and ensuring electrical hazard safety labels are present on equipment to warn of potential hazards that can cause fires, burns and shocks, your staff can be aware of dangers and plan accordingly.
- Develop an escape plan and run drills: When laying out a worksite of a business facility, you need to map out an escape plan in the event of an emergency like a fire. The effectiveness of such routes are measured by what is called the "speed of egress" - a term used by fire protection researchers to measure the movement of people during an evacuation. The faster and more safely people can escape in a crisis, the more solid your plan is.
Some of the fundamental requirements of egresses include no locks or obstacles blocking escape paths, non-exits being marked as such, and having multiple safeguards in place, such as signage positioned over egresses as well as in places that point to where people can leave the building. OSHA stipulates that at least two doors or windows must be available for use as fire exits, neither of which can be located in proximity to the other.
Your workers should know where exits are located as well as the location of alternative exits should the main doors or corridors be blocked off in the event of a fire. Ideally, three or four practice drills should be performed each year so your staff doesn't forget the plan and where to assemble if separated during an actual event.
- Clearly mark all egresses and fire safety equipment: Even if you've run countless drills and worked out your egress to a T, when a real emergency occurs, panic and confusion can render the best laid plans moot. That's where clear, readable fire safety signs come into play. Whether it's "Exit," "Emergency," or other directive verbiage, evacuation procedures must be clearly communicated. Better yet, egress signage that is photoluminescent and glows in the dark can be critical in the event of a blackout.
- Keep fire alarms well maintained: Fire alarms are a first line of defense when fires occur. In those instances where fire leads to severe damage, injury or death, out-of-service or non-existent smoke detectors are often to blame. Make sure that your alarm is kept in good working condition. For instance, if it's battery operated, the power supply should ideally be swapped out once per year. Not only is it mandatory for businesses to have working smoke detectors, but they also must be in compliance with OSHA’s rules and regulations.
Here are a few characteristics that fire alarm systems need to include:
- The audible signal must be distinguishing so people know what it is immediately.
- The sound should be readily discernible, meaning loud enough to be heard above ambient noises.
- Alarms must be located in a place that's near to where workers typically congregate.
- Alarm systems should have a backup if the primary system fails or requires maintenance.
- Have fire retardants available and accessible: Small fires can often be doused with fire extinguishers before they spread. OSHA requires businesses to properly maintain these extinguishers, ensuring that they're inspected and approved by OSHA. As with egress markings, clear signage pointing to fire equipment and extinguishers can make the difference between a minor flare up and a roaring blaze in a chaotic situation.
Strategically placed, and custom-crafted as needed, labels and signs can literally be the difference between life and death. Clarion has all the labels and signs you need to communicate fire hazards at your workplace. Get in touch with our safety experts today to discuss how we can assist with your company's fire prevention strategy.
This blog was originally posted on 10/8/2018 and updated with new information.