Safety Spotlight

October 2023

Prepare for Fire Risks at Work

Fire is an ever-present risk for every industry and workplace. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a fire department responds to a fire every 23 seconds in the U.S. These fires take thousands of lives each year and lead to more than 14,000 injuries, but regular practice can help workers prepare for these emergencies and stay safe. 

During Fire Prevention Week Oct. 8-14, use these member resources to learn how to prevent fires at work and how to respond to keep yourself and your co-workers safe.

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Watch for Hazards and Participate in Fire Drills

A fire emergency can arise at any time, which is why fire prevention is key. No matter your role, you can help keep your workforce safe by keeping an eye out for fire hazards and resolving or reporting them immediately. This includes keeping flammable materials well away from heat sources, avoiding equipment with damaged, cut or exposed wires, keeping emergency escape routes and doors unobstructed, and understanding the risks of flammable liquids and other materials in your workplace. Regardless of how minor the danger may seem, never be afraid to report a potential fire risk to your supervisor or safety professional.

In addition to watching for hazards, actively participating in fire drills is one of the best ways for you to stay safe. Too often, people view these drills as an inconvenient interruption or as a social break. But while you might have been practicing fire drills since you were in grade school, every drill is an opportunity to refamiliarize yourself with your escape routes and emergency exits. Your workplace should have an emergency action plan that includes a guide for responding to a fire, as well as details on designated safety and first aid responders. If you’re unfamiliar with these resources, ask your safety professional for more details.

If you hear the fire alarm, take it seriously. Stop what you are doing and don’t go back to your workstation for personal items; time is of the essence and your main goal is to escape. Avoid using the elevator and head for your closest emergency exit. Once out, remain quiet and calm to await further instructions. 

After a drill, speak up to offer feedback about the drill’s strengths and weaknesses so you can ensure everyone is safe in an actual emergency. If you have physical issues that might prevent you from evacuating or getting to a designated area quickly, talk with your supervisor and safety professional so they can come up with a plan to assist you. Remember: Knowing how to respond but never having to use the knowledge is better than needing to escape and not knowing what to do.

Know How to Respond to a Fire

When a fire emergency happens, every second counts. Remembering your training and taking the right steps can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why your first goal should be to remain calm. If you discover a fire and no one has pulled the fire alarm, do it now. Then, follow your organization’s escape plan and evacuate or get to a designated safe area immediately. Once you can safely do so, call 911. 

Your instinct might be to look for a fire extinguisher and attempt to fight the flames. While portable fire extinguishers can be extremely effective in combatting small fires in the workplace, your main goal should be to escape safely. If there is ever an instance where your life is threatened, leave the building immediately rather than attempting to find or use a fire extinguisher.

If you are in a situation to use a fire extinguisher, use the PASS process:

1. Pull the pin

2. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire

3. Squeeze the handle slowly and evenly to discharge the material

4. Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side until the fire is out

Keep in mind that not all fire extinguishers are the same and your organization might have certain extinguishers for specific fire risks. If there is ever any doubt about your ability to fight the fire, or if staying to fight it would put you or your co-workers at risk, evacuate immediately. Talk to your supervisor or safety professional about how additional training can help keep your workforce safe.

Fire Safety at Home

Most fire safety tips for the workplace can be applied to your home, but in this case it is up to you to come up with a plan for you and your loved ones to escape. A small house fire can rage out of control in just minutes, so take time to create and practice your home escape plan with your family at least twice a year.

Your plan should include two ways to escape each room, a safe meeting location away from the home and special tips for young children; teach them not to hide during a fire, they must get out and stay out. You can use this tip sheet to draw a floor plan of your home and come up with planned escape routes.

If you live in an apartment building or high-rise, map out as many escape routes as possible to reach your stairways, and remember to never use the elevator in a fire. Check out this article for more tips on fire safety in high-rise buildings.

No matter where you live, minimize your risks by learning about the common causes of home fires, taking special steps for shed or garage fire risks, and regularly inspecting your smoke alarms to be sure they are working. Taking these simple steps now can ensure you and your family are prepared in a fire emergency. 

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