Companies are vulnerable to a wide range of different threats, both to the members of their staff and managers, as well as to their ability to maintain business continuity. The potential causes are countless: from natural disasters and violent weather to power blackouts and acts of vandalism and violence, a company needs to deal with the pressure of preparing for any kind of unexpected event and protecting its people.
When it comes to an office fire incident, the scenarios we will be facing are more frightening.
Life-threatening, unpredictable and difficult to recover from, a fire in the office can disrupt operations for weeks or even months, if you are lucky and it doesn’t cause the permanent closure of your business.
Protecting your company from the threat of flames begins with proactive prevention. While certain situations are completely out of your control (wildfires and arson, just to name a few), most office fires can be avoided just by implementing a few extra precautions.
Evaluating how your structure, facility, premises or site carries unique risks is the very first step in understanding how we can avoid fires or help mitigate the impact if one eventually occurs. Designating a willing person to manage fire safety will help with comprehensive oversight of your company’s preparedness.
First tip – fire safety roles
If your company hasn’t assigned at least one employee (ideally more than one) to oversee fire risk and safety, this should be the company’s top priority right now.
Every company should find at least one person to serve as a Fire Warden. Some candidates who may make sense for this role will include your organization’s Office Manager, Safety Manager, Facility Manager or Human Resources Manager.
This person should develop a deep understanding of what conditions may lead to an office fire and how your company currently sizes up.
Fire Warden tasks
- Assist in implementing effective emergency procedures in your office
- Conduct a walkthrough of your organization’s workplace to assess real fire hazards
- Raise awareness about existing fire hazards
- Document risk areas and work with management to resolve them
- Help prevent emergencies
- Evaluate fire risk control measures
- Educate workers on how to act in case of an emergency
- Plan and execute periodic fire drills
- Routine fire prevention walkthroughs
Keep in mind that it’s essential to assign a specific person responsible for workplace fire safety and prevention.
Other fire safety tasks
A specific person needs to be in charge of overall fire prevention efforts. But if your company employs more than fifty workers, fire planning can become complex. You will actually need to build a team of individuals in order to help the Fire Warden with the tasks. Other duties that need to be delegated to members of your team include the following:
- Maintaining accountability of individuals
- Reporting to leadership
- Guaranteeing doors are closed
- Ensuring evacuation routes are clear
- Assisting mobility-impaired workers
- Guaranteeing affected areas are clear and collecting stragglers
Second tip – identifying risks in the office
The threat of most office fire outbreaks could be extinguished well before the initial spark. There are a variety of factors that place a company at a higher risk of a fire incident occurs. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) lists some of the most common causes of workplace fires in an effort to educate every employee. While the following list is not comprehensive, it covers the most common workplace fire hazards:
- Lighting Equipment
- Cooking Appliances
- Electrical Wiring
- Power Strips (overloaded)
- Smoking Materials
- Heating Appliances
- Office/Entertainment Equipment
Your Fire Warden needs to conduct a walkthrough of your company’s structure, keeping an eye on the high-risk areas mentioned above. Once a potential hazard is identified, plans should be developed to fix the issue, train employees on proper use, or completely eliminate the risk.
Third tip – fire-prone zones
Because there are different factors from industry to industry, there is no fire safety panacea that can work across the board. However, there are common areas within several conventional work environments that must be considered as higher risk.
Over 20% of reported office fires over a five-year period started in the kitchen or cooking area of the workplace. Any structure with a kitchen containing an oven, microwave, toaster or heating appliance is vulnerable.
It needs to also be noted that while only two percent of fires began in a workspace’s attic area, these fires were actually responsible for over thirteen percent of direct property damage. Every area of the office should, of course, be given equal attention, however, it is helpful to understand fire-prone areas of an office and what points of origin produce the most important damage.
There are some precautions every company should take in order to lessen the impact if the event of an actual fire outbreak. These include minimizing the amount of loose paper present in the office, properly storing any flammable materials, and instructing all workers on fire response prevention.
Maintain functional appliances and conduct regular electrical inspections to help mitigate the risk of a fire incident actually happening.
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