While the focus of National Fire Prevention Week is on preventing residential fires and to encourage fire prevention and fire response education for children and families, fires and explosions were responsible for 143 occupational fatalities in 2011, and the threat of fire to business equipment and buildings demand business owners and HSE professionals consider the threat of fire carefully.
National Fire Prevention Week — sponsored and supported by the National Fire Protection Association and its precursors since its inception — was first instated in 1911 as a single day to observe the the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire and inform the public about fire prevention. In 1922 Fire Prevention Day was expanded to Fire Prevention Week.
Every business needs a fire prevention plan. If you employ 10 or fewer employees, OSHA does not mandate the plan to be in writing; nevertheless, every employee must be protected from fire hazards while at work.
The single best way to prevent injury from workplace fires is to prepare employees for the eventuality and inform them of potential sources of fuel or ignition in their work area. Training is the focal point of any push to keep workers safe, but training can only be useful in conjunction with other systems in place to protect workers in case of fire.
A fire prevention plan that follows OSHA regulations must include the following:
- A list of fire hazards at the worksite, handling and storage steps for hazardous materials, ignition sources and their controls, and equipment in place to protect against fire damage
- Procedures to prevent accumulation of flammable and combustible waste
- Procedures for maintaining fire safeguards on heat-producing equipment
- The names and/or job titles of employees who are expected to maintain fire-prevention equipment and those in control of potential fuel sources.
Preventing fires is about keeping ignition sources and fuel sources away from each other, and having individuals take responsibility for ensuring as much.
Nevertheless, as workplace fire fatalities and the millions of dollars in damages that occur every year, not every fire can be prevented. The appropriate response in the event of a fire can mean the difference between life and death.
An Emergency Action Plan that follows OSHA regulations must include the following:
- the way employees are expected to report fires or other emergencies
- procedures for evacuation and escape routes for all employees
- what employees are to do if their position requires them to operate key operations before evacuation
- how to account for evacuees
- details about rescue and medical responsibilities — duties required and individuals expected to perform them.
OSHA also recommends the plan include specifics about the alarm and communication systems in place, and a plan to securely store vital documents in case of emergency.
Any effective business system must periodically be examined for effectiveness. the systems in place to protect workers from workplace fire hazards are no different. National Fire Prevention Week is a good time to review the entire slate of fire protection mechanisms in the workplace — from safety documentation and evacuation route maps to fire extinguishers and alarm systems.
One week is not enough to ensure workers have the training and tools they need to ensure a safe workplace, but highlighting fire safety for one week can be of great value to the safety of workers.