Tips for fire safety in the workplace

Ten easy ways to reduce your business’s risk of fire

Workplace fire safety is a series of practices that reduces a business’s risk of fire and keeps employees and patrons safer. Workplace fires often result in costly repairs and lost business that combine to create a devastating setback for a small business. In fact, fire is reported as one of the most common and costly small business claims.

Fire safety should be top-of-mind for all business owners whether they own a food truck, bakery, retail shop or office space. Keep your employees and business safe by following these ten simple tips for fire safety in the workplace.

1. Have an evacuation strategy

Every business should have an evacuation strategy to make it safer and more efficient for employees and customers to exit the building during a fire. In fact, OSHA guidelines state that a business must have an emergency evacuation plan (EAP) if they anticipate anyone evacuating their premises during a fire or other emergency.

Make sure your EAP complies with OSHA requirements and industry best practices. Communicate your plan with others in your organization, and post evacuation maps near stairwells and main walkways for easy access.

2. Maintain fire safety equipment

Fire safety equipment such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and sprinklers should be inspected regularly. Any faulty equipment should be replaced right away. Store equipment in an easily accessible area that’s free from clutter.

Keep up with routine maintenance by setting a calendar reminder or designate a time of year to schedule both formal inspections and independent upkeep. For example, many people use daylight savings time as a reminder to change the batteries in their smoke detectors.

3. Train your employees

Human error is a common cause of fire in the workplace. Mishandling chemicals, improperly storing combustible materials and kitchen mishaps are just a few of the many situations that could spark a fire.

Train your employees how to properly operate machinery and safely store and dispose of hazardous materials to minimize fire hazards. Teach your employees the importance of following safety procedures and keep them engaged. It can reduce careless or negligent behavior that might cause an accident.

4. Conduct routine fire drills

Panicking during an emergency can have dire consequences. Help familiarize your employees with your emergency action plan by practicing fire drills a few times a year.

Routine drills can help employees respond to a fire quickly and calmly. Your employees will be better equipped to guide themselves, and others, from your building if they know where to go. Consider having unannounced fire drills to measure the readiness of your staff and address any underlying concerns. Make sure it’s taken seriously.

5. Post clear exits and escape routes

Smoke quickly infiltrates spaces, making it hard to see. Lighted signs can make it easier to locate exits. Consider installing floor lights, especially on main walkways, to guide those who need to crawl to safety.

Post easy-to-read escape routes in several places throughout your building and make sure exits are clearly marked. These maps can direct people to alternative routes and help those unfamiliar with your building to find their way to safety.

6. Practice good housekeeping

An unorganized workspace full of debris and clutter can be a fire safety hazard. Minimize your risk by keeping a tidy workspace. This will make it easier to access emergency equipment and keep escape routes clear.

Establish a designated space for inventory, files and combustible materials to help you stay organized. Regularly purge old files and items that you no longer need to lower your risk of fire.

7. Properly store and dispose of hazardous materials

Designate a well-ventilated area of your workspace to store flammable materials like solvents and fuels. This includes office cleaning products, which are often flammable.

Establish standards for removing oily rags, flammable solvents, gasoline and other accelerants. Employees should use appropriate protective gear and equipment when handling and disposing these items.

8. Schedule routine equipment maintenance

Equipment such as appliances, machinery and computers should be maintained on a regular basis. For example, greasy stoves, lint-filled dryer vents and overheated machinery can all spark fires. Keep a list of your equipment and corresponding inspection dates.

If you hire an outside business to do your inspections and maintenance, make upkeep easier by scheduling your next appointment before they leave. Another convenient option is to schedule all maintenance appointments at the beginning of the year.

9. Establish designated smoking areas

Prevent fire by creating a designated smoking area that’s far away from your building, inventory and combustible materials. Invest in commercial smoking receptacles and limit smoking to a specific area to help keep cigarette butts contained. Dispose of ashes away from flammable liquids and trash.

10. Eliminate electrical hazards

Electrical hazards are common causes of workplace fires. Overloaded outlets, defective wiring and overheated equipment are just a few of the many electrical fire threats businesses face. Encourage employees to speak up if they notice electrical hazards, such as frayed wiring. If repairs are needed, make sure it’s done by a qualified electrician.