Preventing fires in the workplace

October 14th, 2011

Modern homes and workplaces have almost every protection against fires, and yet they still happen. Accidents, Mother Nature and carelessness can wreak havoc in places considered ‘fire-proof’. While prevention is the best solution, damages can be minimised by comprehensive evacuation plans, education and awareness. Fire safety is achieved through the combined efforts of an employee and their staff, so it’s essential to get everyone on board.

Carelessness and accidents
Cigarette butts and matches are fire hazards, and can cause fire through either careless disposal or accidents. Designated smoking areas and cigarette disposal units are designed specifically to reduce risk of fire, so ensure all smokers use them.  Fires caused by electrical equipment can be purely accidental, but keeping appliances and cords in good condition can limit the risk. Be mindful of overloading electrical systems through extension cords and running too many appliances concurrently. Always seek advice and the expertise of a qualified electrician, whether they are outsourced or located on site.

Properly contain flammable liquids, such as alcohol, paint, paint thinner or gas, and be cautious of any nearby heat sources or a high ambient temperature. Fire extinguishers should be positioned near high-risk areas (such as those mentioned above) for easy access, but not too close that they would be inaccessible in the event of a fire. Also, fire extinguishers are only effective if employees know where they are located and how to use them correctly, so ensure everyone is trained in these respects.

Mother Nature
Australia is one of the driest continents on earth, so fire can ignite relatively easily, especially during summer months.  There are a few easy ways to reduce damage during a natural fire, starting with reducing all varieties of clutter. Leaves and rubbish piles provide additional fuel for fires, whilst also possibly blocking exits, so ensure workplaces well kept. While sprinklers are less common nowadays, it’s good to check that they are not blocked or stuck behind large stacks and prevented from operating correctly. Dispose of flammable wastes offsite, and ensure regular rubbish is kept to a minimum.

Vandals lighting fires on your premises is a real risk, but safeguarding against arson is straightforward. Maintain a high level of building or site security, especially after hours. Report any suspicious activity, even if it feels unnecessary, because it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Signage and Evacuation
Emergency telephone numbers and the company address should be easily visible from all phones in the workplace. Adequate signage should also be visible around the workplace, outlining evacuation routes and procedures. Train staff in evacuation procedures and any specific roles they might have in an emergency. Hold fire drills in which the alarm is sounded, staff evacuate and assemble correctly, and any equipment is shut down.

Encourage a workplace culture that takes fire safety seriously and is aware of the harmful consequences of workplace fires. While injury and loss of life are the first that come to mind, people can lose jobs and workplaces can be destroyed beyond rebuilding.