On average, municipal fire departments respond to nearly 38,000 fires at industrial or manufacturing properties every year. The annual losses are estimated to be sixteen deaths, almost three hundred injuries and $1.2 billion in property damage.
With those staggering statistics in mind, it’s wise to do all you can to prevent fires and, should a fire develop, respond quickly to protect lives and property.
Here, we discuss:
- What causes fires in the workplace
- How to conduct a fire hazard assessment
- How to use those results to build a fire prevention plan and an emergency action plan
- Resources to continue your learning
What Causes Fires in the Workplace?
When trying to prevent fires, it’s best to understand precisely what causes fires. At its most basic level, fire requires three elements: heat or an ignition source, fuel and oxygen. It’s called the fire triangle. These three items are at the root of preventing fires and extinguishing them.
Heat or ignition sources include equipment, operations, or materials that can emit a spark or flame. In the workplace, that includes hot work from heating and grinding to welding and soldering. It also includes furnaces, boilers and overloaded electrical circuits. Static electricity and smoking are other sources. Plus, deliberate arson is yet another fire risk.
Fuel includes all combustible materials. The list includes paper, wood, trash, rags and clothing. Also, a prime source is flammable liquids and gases, including propane, gasoline, solvents and cooking or lubricating oils. Metals, such as magnesium, can also be a source of fuel. Often overlooked is combustible dust from metal and coal processing to sawdust and grain handling.
Oxygen comes from the air, which is composed of 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. This means it’s always present and ready to serve its role in causing a fire.
Fire Hazard Assessment in the Workplace
To successfully prevent fires, an organization requires a proactive, ongoing process to identify and assess those hazards. That involves a seven-step process.
- Identify Fire Hazards. This requires thoroughly reviewing the workspace covering ignition, fuel and oxygen sources – the fire triangle. It should also consider the structure of the workspace to fully understand the potential for fire spread and the escape routes.
- Identify People at Risk. While all employees may be at risk during a fire, this review should focus on the most vulnerable. That includes those near hazards, isolated workers, large groups of people, people with disabilities and temporary workers or visitors who may not be familiar with evacuation routes.
- Evaluate and Remove or Reduce Fire Risks. This involves identifying and considering the risks as well as the adequacy of current fire safety measures. It requires assessing the risk of fire, recognizing the potential outcomes of fire, developing a risk rating and determining the required action and timeframe.
- Document Findings. All the above must be captured in writing. That written document can then be compared to previous fire hazard assessments and used to prepare or update the emergency plan.
- Prepare an Emergency Plan. All this must then be assembled into an emergency plan or used to update an existing plan. See the fire prevention plan and emergency action plan recommendations below.
- Educate Employees. The best-conducted assessment and best-developed emergency plan will not make a difference if no one knows about it. Everyone needs to be instructed on critical aspects of the plan, the risks they face, and their role in preventing fires and responding if a fire should happen.
- Review and Update Regularly. It’s wise to set up a regular schedule for review and updates. It’s also essential to consider any changes in facilities, employees, equipment, procedures and materials handling. These changes may result in new or increased fire risks that must be addressed.
Emergency Fire Preparation
Import items to have in place in case of a workplace fire. The items below being in place and properly working can help minimize possible injuries and property damages.
- Fire Extinguishers: Keep fire extinguishers readily accessible in various areas of your workplace, especially in areas with high amounts of potential fire hazards.
- Smoke Alarms: Install smoke alarms throughout your workplace and regularly check their batteries.
- Emergency Exits: Keep emergency exits clearly marked and keep items clear of path to ensure easy use.
- Fire Extinguishing Systems: Install fire extinguishing system to quickly control dangerous workplace fires by administrating the right type of suppressant to the particular fire.
OSHA Fire Prevention Plan Requirements
A fire prevention plan is the first step toward establishing a fire safety program. It’s designed first to prevent a fire, second to control any fire that breaks out and, finally, extinguish it. Here are the OSHA fire prevention plan requirements.
- List all major fire hazards and the type of fire protection equipment needed to control each risk.
- Specify the handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials.
- Identify all potential fire ignition sources and their control.
- Define steps to control accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials.
- Document procedures to maintain safeguards for heat-producing equipment to prevent accidental ignition of combustible materials.
- Name employees or job titles responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent or control sources of ignition or fires. Provide a similar list of those responsible for controlling fuel source hazards.
The plan must be in writing, kept in the workplace and available to employees. All new employees must be informed about the fire hazards they will face and those parts of the plan necessary for self-protection. All this is found in OSHA Standard 1910.39.
OHSA Emergency Action Plan Requirements
OSHA Standard 1910.38 outlines the requirement for an emergency action plan, with particular emphasis on responding to fires. The plan must be in writing and available to employees for review. Here are the required sections.
- Reporting procedures for a fire or any emergency.
- Evacuation procedures, including exit route assignments.
- Procedures for employees who conduct critical plant operations before they evacuate.
- Accounting for all employees after evacuation.
- Rescue and medical duty procedures for designated employees.
- Employee names or job titles who serve as contacts for more information for employees about their responsibilities.
In addition, an employer must provide an employee alarm system with a distinctive signal for each emergency purpose, provide employee training on evacuation procedures and review the plan with each employee.
Free Webinar: Fire Safety – What You Need to Know
We’ve covered a great deal of information about fire safety and prevention. It still probably feels like you’ve been drinking from a firehose, pun intended. Even so, there is much more to know about this critical safety aspect for you, your employees and your business.
The good news is that you can learn more at our free webinar titled Fire Safety – What You Need to Know. Follow the link for more information and to register.
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Reference Links/Notes – For background, not to be included with the article.