Every 23 seconds, a fire department in the United States is responding to a fire emergency. 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 the beginning of January 2021, firefighters have been battling blazes in California and Oregon. At least four deaths have resulted from the fires, and it’s been estimated that 5,100 buildings were destroyed in just these two states alone. Fall fire season is beginning soon on October 15, which contributes to why raising awareness at this time is so important.
National Fire Prevention Week 2021 is October 3-9. 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.
Fire Safety Statistics
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 by over three percent from 2010, while fire injuries have fallen by nearly 13 percent.
While those numbers are promising, many others show that more progress still needs to be made by way of safety, awareness and prevention. These figures from the USFA for the year 2019 help to add additional context into the prevalence and seriousness of fire-related hazards:
- There were 1,291,500 fires reported throughout the year, with 16,600 reported injuries.
- These fires resulted in 3,704 fatalities – up 24 percent from 2010.
- 29 percent of these fires stem from cooking-related activities.
- Over 11 percent of fires were accidental and caused by "carelessness" while nearly eight percent were due to electrical malfunction.
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, 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 multi-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:
1. 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, workers can be aware of dangers and plan accordingly.
The most common causes for electrical hazards are as follows:
- Overloading circuits, outlets, or surge protectors.
- Connecting extension cords or power strips to other extension cords or power strips.
- Using extension cords for an extended period of time.
- Running electrical cords across doorways or under carpets.
Using more than one
heat-producing appliance in an outlet at a time.
The most common hazards in manufacturing workplaces besides electrical ones are flammable liquids and gases, combustible dust, hot work, and machinery. Keeping an impeccably clean, labeled, and organized workplace avoids buildup and overload from these hazards.
2. 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.
Some of the fundamental requirements of egress safety systems include no locks or obstacles blocking escape paths, and non-exits being marked as such. Signage can also be 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.
3. 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 descriptions), like photoluminescent signs and markings that glow in the dark, are all important considerations.
4. 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.
5. 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.
Strengthening Your Fire
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.