Each year, fires are responsible for 3% of workplace injuries. They can leave businesses of any size devastated, and employers and employees wondering what to do next. What are the best ways to prevent fires in the workplace? How can you train employees what to do in emergencies? On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, Assistant Fire Chief Brad Fraizer shares the best safety practices for your business and advises employers on how to keep their employees and customers safe.
Listen to this interview on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Based in Columbia, Missouri, Brad Fraizer has served the Columbia Fire Department (CFD) for 18 years. CFD boasts 142 employees, nine fire stations, and has 12 fire trucks out in the field at any one time, so public safety is an around-the-clock job for Fraizer and his team. As the Assistant Fire Chief, Fraizer focuses on preventing fires through public education and code enforcement.
The Columbia Fire Department is one of 267 fire departments to achieve national accreditation. “We’ve demonstrated that we’re doing everything we can to constantly improve, constantly evolve,” Fraizer said. Much of their job requires interacting with members of the public—including business owners—every day.
“The fire service is, in many regards, the perfect form of customer service. And what I mean by that is, if you have a problem, any time of the day, any day of the week, any time, you can call the fire department. We’ll show up, figure out what’s going wrong, we’ll fix the problem, and then we’ll leave. And we don’t send you a bill. We get to help people in everything that we do.”
Common causes of fires in the workplace
Fraizer finds that there are two main causes of fires in the workplace: negligence and faulty equipment. Many fires begin on accident. Other fires are caused by equipment that hasn’t been checked in a while. Frayed cords and worn-out wires can easily cause a spark. These fires aren’t started on purpose but can be very damaging. The loss is often made worse knowing the cause could have been prevented.
Fire safety best practices
To prevent fires in your workplace, and prepare your employees to react if one occurs, follow these seven best practices:
1. Follow your local fire code
In order to set a fire safety standard for businesses, many communities use a fire code. These guidelines require you to have several safety measures in place, like emergency exit lights and fire extinguishers. Some types of businesses may be required to take a few extra precautions. In spaces where people gather, such as restaurants or hotels, business owners are often required to have maps with escape routes to help customers.
Enforcing fire codes is an important job for Fraizer. When the fire department does an inspection of your business, they are looking for dangers that could cause harm to you or your employees.
2. Choose the right fire extinguishers
If you’re following your local fire code, you probably have fire extinguishers around your workplace. There are different classes of fire extinguishers. The most common type is multi-purpose. These are great for use in offices, commercial vehicles, and break rooms. However, if you work with hazardous chemicals or store a large amount of flammable material, you may need a different type. For more on how to properly equip your workplace with extinguishers, check out this episode’s bonus clip.
Your local fire department can help you identify the right extinguishers for your business and where to buy them. Involve them as early as possible when you start your search for safety equipment. Fraizer often runs into businesses that underestimate the precautions they might need.
“We see, for example, local distilleries. They are dealing with some really flammable liquid on the front-end, the raw stuff that they’re going to turn into their final product,” he said. “They don’t understand a lot of times—going into that—they want to have ‘x’ amount of volume on hand. You get too much and you’re going to have to have a lot of secondary containment. It gets to be impractical.”
3. Train your employees on fire safety
In a fire emergency, employees need to know how to use the tools available to them. Some fires can be put out with a fire extinguisher. Employees should know how to operate one and use it when the fire is small and can be easily contained. However, if the fire is large or they have doubts about putting it out, the fire department should be called. You should have a plan in place to keep both employees and any customers safe.
4. Educate on the use of safety equipment
Setting safety standards is important for employees. If your employees work with equipment that can cause sparks, ensure the floor and surrounding area are clear of flammable material. Hold a safety meeting to educate employees on fire prevention. New employees should receive fire safety training.
5. Make an evacuation plan
An evacuation plan is an important part of any business. Employees and customers must be able to get away from a fire quickly and safely. Develop a written plan for your workplace. A good evacuation plan should establish the following:
- Head count: Are all your employees out of the building? How will you know?
- Safe meeting spot: Where will people gather once they have left the building?
Make sure your plan accounts for all employees and gives people a safe place to go away from the fire. Practice it at least once per year with your employees. If you have a local fire code, it may require you to practice it more often. If you aren’t sure how to develop one, your local fire department can assist you.
6. Check your communication
Once you create an evacuation plan, you need to share it. There are several tools to help keep you connected in an emergency. A PA system can alert employees and customers to a fire. For small businesses, a bullhorn can be a great option. Large businesses often have a lot of employees. Hand-held radios can keep staff connected as they leave the building.
7. Practice fire drills
Fires can start quickly and without warning, causing people to panic. Fire drills are a great way to prepare your employees. Hold a mock drill so employees get familiar with the sound of the alarm and know what to do. Fraizer recommends holding a fire drill at least once a year. Your local fire code may recommend more frequent drills. Fraizer stresses there is no such thing as too much training. Practice makes employees feel prepared.
Good housekeeping: preventing fire at work and at home
One of the best ways to prevent fires is to keep your home and business clean and clutter-free. Clear trash often and empty garbage bins at least once a day. Employees who use machinery that causes sparks should make sure work areas are clear of flammable materials, like wood shavings. If you allow employees to smoke, provide them with outdoor areas away from grass or mulch. At home, store flammable liquids and other fire-starting supplies where children can’t reach them.
Your local fire department can help you develop a fire safety plan and get the right equipment. If you are starting a new business, involve them or another code enforcement officer as soon as possible. Use our Resource Library to discover the safety resources you need today.
Bonus content: Choosing the right fire extinguisher for your business
Equipping your workplace with the right type of fire extinguisher, the right number of units, in the right locations might seem intimidating to a business owner. Fraizer shared insights and tips to simplify fire preparedness for your business in this bonus clip:
Types of fire extinguishers
- ABC fire extinguisher: Fraizer recommended this common type for businesses generally looking to get some type of extinguisher. It contains a dry chemical powder that extinguishes solid fuel fires (such as those fed by wood and paper), grease and liquid fires, as well as fires involving energized electrical equipment.
- K Class fire extinguisher: This type of extinguisher contains chemicals better suited for kitchen environments.
- D Class fire extinguisher: Businesses that work with flammable metals, like titanium, need these.
- Additional specialty extinguishers: If your business deals with unique materials or products, contact your local fire department to find out if you need a special type of extinguisher. One example: A Halon extinguishing system for computer equipment.
Inspection and maintenance
How often should you have your fire extinguishers inspected? Once per year, Fraizer said. He also recommended that business owners consider a servicing company to manage everything for them. This company will come to your business and ensure you have the right number of extinguishers in the right locations. They regularly inspect your extinguishers, replacing those that are expired.
“It’s kind of an auto-pilot thing; they don’t have to think about it,” Fraizer explained. If you can make room in your budget for this service, it’s well worth it to know that your business is always prepared for a fire.
To check the status of your extinguisher, look for a dial with red, yellow and green zones. If the needle is in the green zone, the extinguisher is ready for use. If not, it may need to be recharged. Some smaller extinguishers, such as those found in vehicles and homes, are not rechargeable. Fraizer recommended disposing of these after about five years, even if the dial still indicates that they hold a charge.
Trust the experts
As a business owner, you’re responsible for ensuring your workplace is prepared to respond to a fire. Luckily, you don’t have to figure it out alone. Call your local fire department to find the best solution for your workplace.