Are Your Building Occupants Safe?

The architects and owners of commercial buildings do their best to design spaces that aren’t only structurally sound, but functional, pleasant, and safe for their occupants. Yet sometimes, even with the best intentions, important aspects of building safety can be overlooked in the design and management processes.

In this post, we give you a quick rundown on how you can assess and improve occupant safety in your building.

Identify Your Greatest Risks

When assessing the safety of your building and the preventative measures you can take, it’s important to identify the most likely causes of danger and damage.

Consider aspects such as your building type and the sort of business that will be conducted inside of it. Are large crowds expected to regularly gather in the building? Do the residing businesses have hazards unique to their operations (i.e. restaurants and kitchen fires)? Review any hazardous objects that may be present in or around the building: heavy machinery, combustible equipment such as boilers or propane tanks, toxic chemicals, flammable materials, water-reactive substances, etc.

During this consideration process, don’t forget to factor in your regional climate. If your building’s area is prone to harsh weather or at risk of disaster, your building’s design and emergency planning should take that into account. For example, buildings in hurricane-prone climates require more investments in procedures and installations specifically geared toward hurricane protection.

Have your blueprints and design projections reviewed by safety experts to check for any weaknesses. Even if no shortcomings are perceptible in the plans, it’s important to have the actual construction process supervised and reviewed to ensure that the finished structure is as safe as it was designed to be.

Develop an Emergency Plan

No building is fully safe without a plan for handling and responding to emergencies. After identifying your biggest risks, it’s time to develop an emergency plan. You should have strategies in place for the most likely emergency scenarios facing your building in particular, as well as those most common for commercial buildings in general.

Emergency plans should start with a policy for reporting dangerous incidents. Identify the individual occupants who should be responsible for calling emergency services such as paramedics, the fire department, etc. If possible, construct a “chain of command” for occupants who will hold authority in managing emergency response procedures. Policies should also be made for personnel who are responsible for shutting down equipment or performing other critical tasks in an emergency scenario.

The next step is creating your evacuation plan. This should cover not only how to evacuate, but also the conditions under which evacuation is necessary. When deciding this, make sure that your conditions for evacuation are realistic for the design and construction of your building.

Distribute information about your protocols to building occupants, and place information posters in strategic points near evacuation routes or sites that are prone to accidents, such as boiler rooms and electrical rooms.

It’s wise to arrange days for safety training and drills. Occupants can participate and learn how to best respond to dangerous situations, better preparing themselves in the event of a real emergency. With proper training, your occupants should be able to:

  • Identify and understand their personal roles in the emergency response policy

  • Know and follow the correct evacuation routes and procedures

  • Locate and access all emergency equipment (fire extinguishers, etc.)

  • Contact appropriate emergency response services

  • Know how and when to shut down and operate critical equipment

  • Perform basic first-aid (CPR, burn and wound treatment, etc.)

To develop a thorough emergency plan that is best suited for your unique building, it’s best to consult emergency planning professionals and resources from industry authorities, such as OSHA.

Select and Install Appropriate Safety Equipment

Even with the best emergency response plan, a building lacking proper safety equipment is putting occupants at risk. The safety equipment chosen for your building should depend upon the unique risk factors you’ve identified, as well as code requirements.

Emergency alarms are the most basic and necessary of all safety equipment. Ideal alarms should be automatically triggered by the presence of smoke, fire, water, and other signs of danger. Alarms must be perceivable by all occupants, even those with sensory disabilities.

You can take further steps to protect your occupants by installing smoke and fire containment devices, such as Smoke Guard’s fire and smoke curtains. These fire-resistant devices integrate with your smoke and fire alarm systems and are designed to seal off areas in the event of a fire, preventing the smoke and fire from spreading elsewhere. This not only guards the rest of your building from further damage, but also keeps occupants safe and evacuation paths visible.

Clear signs should be posted along the evacuation path conveying the evacuation route, identifying emergency exits, and providing critical information for emergency scenarios. Additionally, emergency lighting with a backup power source should be installed along evacuation paths to maintain visibility. 

By going through the process we’ve outlined above, you can make great improvements to the overall safety of your building and its occupants. Check back at the Smoke Guard blog soon to learn more about how you can design buildings responsibly and efficiently.