Protecting your workplace against fire goes far beyond installing and testing smoke detectors. Every business is unique and while some fire hazards are universal, different industries can require different types of efforts. These tips can help you reduce the risk of fire in the workplace by mitigating factors commonly known to cause commercial fires.
Assess your fire risk hazard
To get a better understanding of your workplace’s safety needs, start by assessing your fire risk hazard.
For example, manufacturing fire risks can include machinery catching fire or dust in the facility accidentally combusting. And while you won’t usually find combustible dust in a restaurant or cafeteria, the risk of grease and cooking fires rises exponentially in these workplace environments. Even churches run the risk of fire from electric heaters and candles meeting older flammable wooden interiors.
Buildings that house hospitality and healthcare operations, too, run unique risks because so many different people are housed there at any given point in time. A large number of people away from home and staying behind closed doors can run a higher risk of unintentional and intentional fires than workplaces where every room is regulated for fire prevention.
Take a moment to assess the fire risks that can be found within your facility and note each one. Remember while you’re making your list, that risk can also depend on external factors, like geographic location. Hotter, drier climates and areas prone to wildfires automatically add to potential risk.
Look at your list and pull out the hazards that are extremely specific to your industry or facility, like a certain piece of equipment or type of lighting, and that you can control. Preventing fires caused by these hazards may require you to contact the manufacturer or consult product manuals for fire safety information. Identify these fire hazards and mitigate them as quickly as possible. Document your process for future use and make employees aware of the risk and your established safety measures.
Note this is also a good time to review a map of your facility and establish (or reestablish) evacuation routes for all departments.
Eliminate electrical hazards
After you’ve identified the risks that are unique to your industry, you can move onto handling the fire hazards that transcend industries, like electricity. Here are some of the most common methods of reducing electrical fires:
- Less is always more. If you’re worried about overloading a circuit, remove some of your electric appliances and plug them in elsewhere. If necessary, call a professional electrician to install new outlets instead of overloading the ones you already have.
- Avoid overloading circuits with appliances by only plugging in one high-wattage appliance at once.
- Unplug appliances when not in use – especially space heaters!
- Keep portable heaters positioned at least three feet (36 inches) away from any flammable materials.
- Immediately unplug any electric devices that come in contact with water or other liquids.
The process of eliminating electrical hazards is ongoing and should be revisited monthly at a minimum. Develop a fire prevention checklist and assign a manager or employee to a regular fire inspection schedule including:
- Check your facility for frayed cords, exposed wiring on machinery and overloaded outlets. Never use wire tape for quick repairs.
- Check that routine maintenance has been performed on machinery and equipment.
- Inspect tools for damage, including checking cords for broken ground pins.
- Immediately remove any extension cords hung from the ceiling or walls with sharp objects like nails or tacks.
- Ensure that electric cords do not run through high-traffic areas, across carpets or in doorways.
Perform regular maintenance on heating systems and appliances
This category encompasses the usual heating systems like furnaces and boilers as well as less common heating appliances like wood stoves and fireplaces. To help further decrease the likelihood of a fire hazard, regular maintenance and inspection is important for each one.
Start with a firm foundation and always make sure your heating equipment is installed by licensed professionals who keep your facility safe and up to code. Once installed, schedule regular annual inspections by qualified professionals and keep up with any recommended maintenance, especially changing air filters regularly. Late summer and early fall are great times to schedule inspections, right before the weather gets cold and you’ll be relying on your heat for day-to-day operations.
Aside from regular inspections, do your part daily to keep flammable materials at least three feet away from vents and other heat sources, the same way you would with space heaters. Never block these vents with furniture or boxes.
Keep fire extinguishers on hand
Different types of fires require different types of extinguishers. Be sure to keep the correct number and types of fire extinguishers on hand, per your industry. The U.S. Fire Administration is an excellent source for fire extinguisher class information.
There are five common types of fire extinguishers, each serving a different purpose or industry. They are as follows:
- Class A: This class is indicated by the letter A inside of a green triangle. It is the most common, multipurpose extinguisher used to put out fires on regular, solid materials like wood and paper.
- Class B: Indicated by the letter B inside a red square, this class of extinguisher puts out fires on combustible liquids like grease.
- Class C: This class is depicted as the letter C inside a blue circle and encompasses electrical equipment that must be plugged in to operate.
- Class D: A letter D inside a gold star means that extinguisher puts out fires on flammable metals. This class is found most often in factories.
- Class K: A simple letter K means that extinguisher is for putting out fires on burning vegetable and animal oils. This class is found most often in commercial kitchens and cafeterias.
Note that some extinguishers cover multiple classes and will be labeled as such. For example, A-C can put out fires on flammable solids, combustible liquids, and electrical equipment.
Like heating systems and electrical equipment, fire extinguishers must also be maintained properly. As part of your regular fire prevention workplace inspection, check:
- Access. Can the extinguishers be easily grabbed and used in case of emergency, or are they hard to get to?
- Pressure level. A fire extinguisher will usually have a gauge indicating that pressure is too high or too low.
- Working parts. Is any part of the extinguisher visibly rusted or damaged?
- Cleanliness. Is the extinguisher free of dust and oily debris? If not, carefully wipe it down.
Other recommended safety and replacement guidelines. For example, some types of extinguishers need to be shaken or pressure tested regularly and no extinguisher lasts forever. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines state that rechargeable fire extinguishers must be charged every six years and non-rechargeable, or disposable, extinguishers must be replaced after 12 years
Of course, the knowledge and know how for reducing the risk of workplace fires only goes so far if it isn’t passed on to employees. Fire prevention plans can benefit the workplace immensely. They are best developed by leadership and then passed down through the ranks via written instructions, training sessions and regular drills.
Regardless of your business’s size, it helps to dedicate a person or team to conducting regular fire prevention inspections. This can be a paid job for a volunteer employee or baked into the contract for the facilities management team.
But even if it’s only in one person or small team’s contract to conduct inspections, fire prevention is a team effort. Empowering employees to identify fire hazards and mitigate risk can go a long way in keeping the workplace safe.
Business fire cleanup services
If the thought of creating and disseminating a fire prevention plan for your workplace seems overwhelming, working with a disaster restoration company can help. A restoration company can not only help restore your property if a fire does occur, but can work with you beforehand to identify and address areas of risk or concern.
Partnering with a restoration company can be the missing piece in jumpstarting critical workplace fire prevention and cleanup efforts that can get you back in business as quickly as possible. A personalized disaster recovery plan made in advance can keep you in business and maximize your recovery process.
ServiceMaster DSI offers disaster recovery planning for fire prevention as well as soot and smoke removal for offices, educational institutions, government facilities, healthcare facilities, hospitality facilities, manufacturing plants, apartment communities, places of worship and retail spaces.
Learn more about ServiceMaster DSI’s Commercial Fire Services and disaster recovery cleanup here.