- In 2011, 3% of all workplace fatalities were caused by fire and explosion.
- Fire is devastating to employees, their families, and the business as a whole.
- Employers should address three key areas related to fire safety: 1) fire precautions 2) emergency procedures 3) protection of employees with firefighting responsibilities.
- Fire prevention involves routine workplace inspections to assess potential fire hazards.
- Safe working practices can reduce the risk of fires.
- Communication of fire prevention measures is essential.
- Evacuation procedures and exit routes should be carefully planned.
- Strict regulations apply to employees with firefighting responsibilities. Employers should familiarize themselves with all OSHA regulations regarding fire safety and firefighting.
Fire Safety Overview
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3% of workplace fatalities were caused by fire and explosion in 2011. Fires not only impact the health and safety of employees – their effects can be catastrophic to property and business interests.
Employers should address three key areas related to fire safety: 1) fire precautions 2) emergency procedures and 3) protecting employees with firefighting responsibilities. Fire prevention involves routine inspection of the workplace to assess potential fire hazards. Employers should ensure that flammable liquids are stored safely and that electrical systems are not overloaded. General safe work practices help prevent inadvertent fire risk. Ensuring that work areas are clear of combustible dust or volatile liquids is a commonsense safety practice. Communication of fire prevention measures to all employees is also essential.
Clear evacuation procedures should be in place to prevent injuries and fatalities. All evacuation routes should be unobstructed and fire exits unlocked at all times. Employers must comply with standards associated with design, construction, maintenance, safeguards, and operational features of fire exit routes. Most workplaces must have an alarm or signal system to warn workers in the event of fire. An emergency action plan is required by higher-risk businesses, including those that deal with flammable materials, explosive substances or hazardous wastes.
Employers have discretion in developing fire response plans. They can opt for a total evacuation or assign firefighting responsibilities to particular employees. Obviously, this decision is a critical one and should not be taken lightly. There are strict fire safety standards that apply, and employers are advised to check the OSHA website.
There are a number of regulations that employers should be aware of regarding fire safety and emergency evacuation. Issues for businesses are covered in the General Industry Standard (29 CFR 1910) except those in construction, shipyard employment, marine terminals and longshoring. Specific standards apply in these industries. These standards represent the minimum requirements for fire safety in the workplace. Employers are reminded that other local, state or federal standards may be stricter. Therefore, ongoing research and education are essential.
OSHA: Safety and Health topic – fire safety
U.S. Fire Administration
Home page for the US Fire Administration
Building and Fire Research Laboratory
Building and Fire Research Laboratory home page
SpringerLink – Fire Technology Journal
Fire technology research papers
Business Owner Briefing
elaws – OSHA Fire Safety Advisor
Medical Director Review
OSHA paper: How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations