Fires represent a major hazard for organizations and private individuals, both in terms of personal danger and cost of repairs. Fire safety is apparent and top of mind right now in light of the devastating wildfires impacting the Western United States. Since April 2020, firefighters have been battling blazes in California, Oregon and Washington. At least thirty-seven deaths have resulted from the fires, and it’s been estimated that 7,500 buildings were destroyed while costs to combat the blazes have already exceeded $1.7 billion.
National Fire Prevention Week 2020 is October 4-10. The brainchild of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), this weeklong awareness event 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.
The 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.
Considering these sobering numbers from the USFA for the year 2018 helps to add additional context into the prevalence and seriousness of fire-related hazards:
- There were 1,318,500 fires reported throughout the year, with 15,200 reported injuries.
- These fires resulted in 3,655 fatalities – up 20.5 percent from 2009.
- Fire damage caused a loss of $25.6 billion – up 90.6 percent from 2009.
- Over 30 percent of these fires stem from cooking-related activities.
- Over 11 percent of fires were accidental and caused by "carelessness" while nearly 8 percent were due to electrical malfunction.
Struggling with Fire
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, happen. 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.
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 by the NFPA, 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. Other contributing factors include insufficient awareness of hazards and inadequate training.
The 5 Fire Safety Tips You Need to Know
The day-to-day pressures of running a business and managing employees may be difficult and mult-faceted, but implementing workplace safety protocols is a necessary step to take. Here are a few crucial fire safety tips that can help with workplace fire hazard awareness and prevention:
- 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 the worksite of a 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.
- 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, exit signs and safety tapes come into play. Evacuation and egress procedures must be clearly communicated, and can be done so through a combination of signs and markings. The right verbiage and materials (including whether it's "Exit," "Emergency," or other directive verbiage, like photoluminescent signs and markings that glow in the dark) are all important considerations.
- 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
and extinguishers can make the difference between a minor flare up and
a roaring blaze in a chaotic situation.
Some of the fundamental requirements of egress safety systems 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 does not forget the plan and where to assemble if separated during an actual event.
Strengthening Your Fire Safety Strategy
National Fire Prevention Week is a sound initiative to educate people about the simple but important actions they can take to keep themselves and those around them safe. When it comes to visual safety communication related to your fire prevention strategy, Clarion Safety has the labels and signs you need to communicate fire hazards at your workplace and on your products and equipment. Get in touch with our team today to discuss how we can help.
This blog was originally posted on 10/8/2018 and has been updated with new information throughout.