In the United States, it's estimated that about 80,000 fires occur in commercial environments each year, resulting in about 18,000 injuries, about 3,000 fatalities and billions of dollars worth of damage. Fires may occur for a variety of reasons, and in some cases there's nothing that can be done to prevent them. However, in commercial environments, it's estimated that up to 85 percent of all fires that occur do so because of either error or intent. That's an alarming statistic, and one that places emphasis on how important fire safety protocol is in offices and commercial environments. This piece will serve as a checklist of sorts for helping offices ensure they're up to par on fire safety standards. After all, office fires don't just put employees in danger, but they can also cause extended business interruption - something that can effectively cripple a business.
Fire Safety in the Office: What You Need to Know
Before we get into some of the specifics of an office's fire safety checklist, it's first important to take a look at where the most fires occur in commercial environments. These areas include kitchens, boiler rooms where HVAC equipment is stored, in and around designated smoking areas of the office, in storage rooms and in rooms where electrical circuit breakers are stored. Noting this, many of the tips and suggestions proposed on this checklist will take these areas of the office into consideration. Here's a look:
- Electrical considerations: Office fires derive from two main electrical issues - the overloading of circuits (whether it's intentional or unintentional) and failure to address worn or frayed electrical cords on office equipment. In terms of the former, many building owners or contractors may find it easier to take shortcuts when it comes to circuit systems rather than upgrade equipment. Noting this, they may find it easier and more convenient to just overload these systems - a practice that often violates electrical codes - rather than have said system upgraded. Worn or damaged power cords are also problematic in the office and should be replaced immediately when there's noticeable signs of damage. Try to arrange these cords in areas where they're not easily stepped on or tinkered with to maximize their lifespan.
- Storage and boiler room safety: One main cause of fires in office environments is either the lack of maintenance on HVAC equipment in boiler or storage rooms, or the mistake of placing flammable materials and items near the aforementioned heat-producing equipment. While the latter is common in storage and boiler rooms, it's worth noting that flammable objects and items shouldn't be placed around any appliance or piece of equipment that generates heat in the office, such as copy machines, computers, kitchen appliances (i.e. toasters, coffee makers, etc.) and more.
- Train employees on fire safety: Fire safety should be a priority - not an afterthought - in the office. With that said, make sure that part of new employee orientation discusses the steps to follow to both prevent a fire from occurring and what to do if a fire starts in the office. This orientation should cover many aspects of fire safety. On the preventative side, it should include information on how not to block fire sprinklers and to know where fire alarms and fire extinguishers are located. On the reactionary side, the orientation should educate workers on how to safely and orderly evacuate the building, covering steps like using the stairs instead of the elevator and where to meet and gather once safely outside. Offices should also consider educating workers on fire safety beyond employee orientation and on a more regular basis. You always want to be prepared in case of an emergency.
Install the right safeguarding equipment: Building codes state that offices must have certain fire safety measures in place, but the types of products are largely left up to building managers and facility managers. It is these professionals who are largely tasked with selecting the types of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other fire safety equipment that will be installed in the office setting. With that being said, there are other fire safety products that offices can install to keep workers and property safe in the event of a fire. These products include the likes of smoke curtains to minimize the spread of smoke as well as protection enclosures. Consult with a designer or fire marshal to see if either of these aforementioned products would make sense in your particular office setting.
- Zero tolerance: Finally, all offices should adopt a zero tolerance policy for any individuals putting the facility and others at risk of a fire. Anyone sneaking smoke breaks in their office or not abiding by fire safety protocols discussed in employee orientation should be reported to management. Management can then dictate if a warning, suspension or termination is necessary. Fire safety is something that all offices should take very seriously, and having a zero tolerance policy for irresponsible behavior can help reinforce this.
How do your fire safety measures stack up in the office? Remember, making fire safety a priority doesn't just help keep workers safe, it also helps keep a business operational.