Tips for Fire Prevention and Preparedness at the Office
by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer
Putting out a fire is a common phrase used by businesspeople every day. But what if the fire is more than a metaphor? Do you know what to do to lessen the likelihood of an office fire breaking out and how to react if one does?
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), there were more than 98,000 non-residential building fires in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. Many of them were in small offices and buildings. Estimated property loss from these blazes was $2.6 billion.
A 5-year NFPA analysis found that:
Staples studies show that a majority of employees dont feel their employers are prepared for any kind of emergency, including fires, says Bob Risk, the companys national sales manager for safety. The truth is, most are, but they havent communicated their fire prevention plan well to employees.
What do you and your employees need to know to lower the odds that your office becomes another statistic? It starts with the four Ps of fire prevention: plan, procure, practice and prevent.
No matter the size of the office or the number of employees, someone should be designated as the safety officer, says Ernest Grant, chairman of the board of the NFPA. This person leads the creation and execution of the emergency response plan, which includes:
There are a few specific items you need for fire safety, such as fire extinguishers and smoke alarms but most commercial buildings are required to have these items installed to meet local building codes. Check with your fire marshal to learn the requirements for your municipality. Test alarms and check extinguisher charges each month; replace/recharge immediately when indicated.
Additional emergency supplies include a stocked first aid kit, bottled water and flashlights. One company we work with supplies every one of their employees with an escape mask, Risk notes. Thats important since most people dont succumb to the fire or the heat, but to smoke inhalation.
The safety officer also schedules regular fire prevention trainings, refreshers and drills. When you have a fire or another emergency, its an extremely scary, confusing and rushed situation and many people dont operate well that way. So its almost like you need to be in muscle memory.
Hold drills and review procedures frequently, and include emergency response information in new employee orientation. Play the alarm to make sure employees know what it sounds like it can be a beep, a horn and/or an overhead announcement and what to do when they hear it. Inspect nuisance alarms (like those false alarms from burning popcorn in the microwave) so employees dont start ignoring the sound. Include real-time shutting down of critical equipment if required by law or regulation in the event of an emergency. Run contests to see how quickly employees can exit their workspace, reminding them that personal items may need to be left behind. Ask the fire department to conduct periodic trainings for all employees on how to use a fire extinguisher.
Grant, whos also outreach coordinator for the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, offers these tips for lowering the risk of fire in the first place:
Following the four Ps is the best way to protect your business and your employees. Having an evacuation plan and practicing a fire drill will ensure that employees know what to do in case of a real fire emergency, says Bill Mace, who oversees education and outreach for the Seattle Fire Department.
Adds Grant: This prevents confusion and minimizes the possibility of someone sustaining an injury.
After all those fire drills in school, too many of us take fire prevention and safety for granted. Thats why its crucial for business owners, office managers and safety officers to set the right tone, Risk says. If you dont take it seriously, your employees wont either. I always say, Its a lot easier to prepare for an emergency than to explain why you didnt.
Note: Dont disregard professional fire prevention and emergency preparedness advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation by fire marshals, insurance agents and others; it is provided as is without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult the fire marshal or your insurer if you have specific questions about any fire safety matter.