Fire Safety on the Job

By Becki White

We expend a lot of time and effort educating people on residential fire safety, which only makes sense: residential fires account for over three-quarters of the fires in our state. However, the place where people spend the majority of each day–the workplace–is largely overlooked.

Residential fires are devastating, but a fire in your place of work is difficult, as well. People take cherished items to work to remind them of their families; plaques and keepsakes hang on the walls. And what about economic vitality? Would the company you work for be able to rebound from a fire? According to the National Fire Protection Association, 75 percent of businesses that reopen after a fire close within three years–and that’s if they reopen at all.

There is the saying that the three leading causes of fire are men, women, and children. When we go to work each day, we have two of those factors involved–and like home fires, most workplace fires are preventable.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you go about your workday:

Know the Plan: Each business should have a safety plan. As a member of the fire service, you might be asked to help develop a plan or you may sit on the safety team. Have a clear understanding of the requirements your workplace must adhere to; they may be based on the work your business does. Regardless of whether you’re on the safety team, you should know what you and your colleagues should do if there is a fire. Be aware of evacuation routes, gathering places, and how to evacuate those with limited mobility. In some high-rise buildings, workers in areas not directly involved in the fire must remain in the building until instructed otherwise. Make sure everyone understands that expectation, the reasoning behind it, and how they’ll be told when to evacuate.

Exit Routes: Make sure there are clear exits from all locations in your workplace. Exit corridors should not be a collection point for shipments, boxes, or supplies. Know how many doorways or desks are between your work area and the nearest exit. We know from tragedies like the Station Night Club fire that people naturally want to escape through the door they entered, but that’s often not the best exit point in an emergency.

Need Assistance? If you have a physical disability, even temporarily, make sure your employer includes your special needs in the evacuation plan.

Arson is a leading cause of fires in office buildings nationwide. Follow company security measures and keep unauthorized people out of the building. Keep clutter out of halls, lobbies, alleys, and other public areas. Provide adequate lighting. Encourage employees to report suspicious activities.

Electrical Appliances: Extension cords are a temporary-use item. You shouldn’t use extension cords in place of permanent wiring. Don’t run cords under furniture or across areas where they could be a tripping hazard.

Leave space for air to circulate around heat-producers like copy machines, coffeemakers, and computers; keep appliances away from anything that might catch fire. Designate an employee to turn off or unplug all appliances at the end of each workday.

Smoking: Many companies have banned smoking in the workplace; others have restricted smoking on their property. If your workplace allows smoking, smoke only in designated areas and use ashtrays provided. Keep people from extinguishing cigarettes in landscaping or other vegetation.

Important Work: If you have important projects, irreplaceable data, or expensive equipment, don’t store it on top of your desk. In a fire, material on your desk can be destroyed by smoke or water, even at some distance from the fire. Back up your files; if your computer is destroyed, you can still access your work.

In Case of Fire: When the alarm goes off, evacuate the building, closing doors behind you to contain fire and smoke. Call 9-1-1 even if the fire appears small. If you must exit through smoke, crawl low, under the smoke. Test doors for heat before you open them.

Many of the safety concepts we apply at home are useful in the workplace. Encourage fire safety in your citizens’ workplaces and it will carry over into the homes of the people they work with.

Becki WhiteBecki White is a Minnesota deputy state fire marshal and a captain in the Eden Prairie (MN) Fire Department. She has a master’s degree in teaching and learning and was an elementary teacher for 12 years. White has combined her passion for education with her knowledge and experience in the fire service to become a resource for fire and life safety educators. White is also the vice president of the North Star Women’s Firefighter Association, a nonprofit organization that assists with mentoring, networking, and training women in the fire service.


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