While the majority of all fire injuries and fire deaths occur in a residential setting, the fact is that they can happen anywhere, anytime and to anyone. Nobody really expects a serious fire, explosion or other major incident to occur in a typical business setting such as an office or retail establishment, but they happen and, when they do, it can be devastating.
The results of an office fire, for example, can be either the temporary interruption of business or perhaps permanent closure. Jobs, property and even lives can be lost as the outcome of a serious office fire and, with a huge load of combustible materials present in many office environments, once started a fire can take off quickly and put off huge amounts of heat and smoke. Paperwork, books, carpeting, draperies, upholstered furnishings, wood paneling, vinyl and plastic equipment, inks, toners, cleaning supplies and more can all add to the fuel used by a fire.
Electronic office equipment like computers and printers, kitchen appliances such as kettles, coffeemakers and microwave ovens and heating and cooling equipment can all provide fire ignition sources. All this, combined with the human element, can cause the deadly combination responsible for a devastating office fire. In acknowledgement of this potential, here’s a list of some of the things that can help prepare you and your office mates for such an eventuality.
- Keep combustible loads such as draperies, carpeting and upholstered furnishings to a minimum.
- Restrict the use of high-energy appliances like space heaters and hot plates and closely monitor their use.
- Unplug appliances like coffeemakers, space heaters and hot plates when not in use.
- Ensure that all regularly scheduled maintenance on electrical equipment is dutifully performed.
- Make sure fire alarm systems are tested and operational, including monthly inspection of fire extinguishers.
- Keep all exits unobstructed and clear of any and all combustible materials.
- Keep all flammable liquids properly and securely stored. Limit access to them by unauthorized personnel.
- Make sure that adequate clearance exists to provide proper air circulation around heat-producing equipment like copiers, computers and word processors. Limit their proximity to any combustible materials.
- Make your office a non-smoking area or allow smoking in only certain, safe designated areas. Provide ashtrays that are safe and monitor the proper disposal of all smoking materials.
Fire Code Adherence and Emergency Preparedness
- Provide required automatic fire sprinkler protection and keep all sprinkler heads unobstructed and in good working order.
- Strategically locate the correct number and size of commercially rated fire extinguishers and train onsite personnel in their proper use. Everyone should know where extinguishers are located and how to use them, but specially designated individuals should be tasked with the responsibility of using them in the event of a fire emergency. These personnel will represent the basis of your Emergency Team, trained in the proper procedures to enforce in the response to any workplace emergency.
- Draw up and conspicuously post a fire emergency evacuation plan. Hold two or more fire drills per year to help familiarize personnel with the proper procedures to follow during an emergency scenario.
- Provide adequate building security, to include emergency lighting, secured access openings, intrusion alarms and a guard service.
- All electrical distribution systems should be professionally installed/checked by a certified professional electrician and should satisfy all code requirements.
Contact your local fire department to obtain assistance in completing any of the above steps, to request an on-site fire safety inspection or to learn more about proper fire extinguisher operation or other emergency response procedures. Share this information with others at your workplace and, above all, stay safe!