Fire Prevention Week: How to Prevent Fires in the Workplace
If a fire broke out where you work would you know what to do? Are you aware of your workplace evacuation plan? Are you equipped with the proper knowledge and tools to prevent fires during your work processes? You should know the answers to all these questions.
Preventing fires in the workplace isn’t just about safety, it’s a smart business move. It’s costly enough to run a business in today’s world, and nobody wants to see their profits go up in flames. Every year, workplace fires cause injury and property loss, both of which you can avoid by having the right fire prevention protocols in place.
In recognition of fire prevention week (Sunday, October 6-Saturday, October 12), we’re going to go over some of the most important aspects of workplace fire prevention. Interested in learning more? Read on!
Fire Safety Plans
The best way to be prepared for anything, especially emergency situations, is to have an established plan. Once an emergency hits, like a fire breaking out in your workplace, it’s extremely hard to think clearly. Having a clear plan already laid out makes it so you don’t have to do any rash thinking – You just have to follow the steps laid out for you.
Approved fire safety plans are often required per your local fire code – depending on the building, occupancy rate or industry. If you’re not aware if a fire safety plan is necessary for your organization you can check with your jurisdiction, municipality, or local fire department for more information. However, fire safety plans are a tool you should consider implementing, even if it’s not enforced.
Fire safety plans should be very detailed and outline an evacuation plan, maintenance, housekeeping requirements, and fire control methods. Different jurisdictions may require certain things, and some may provide a standard template or request a certain format – But, in general, a fire safety plan should include:
- How to sound the alarm
- How and when to notify the fire department and designated senior staff (all telephones on-site should have the emergency phone numbers listed, as well as the address of the work-site should be posted close by)
- An evacuation plan
- How to confine, control and extinguish the fire (if possible)
- Fire drill procedures as well as how often they will be performed
- Specialized information for any designated staff given fire safety duties and responsibilities
- Any staff education and training necessary
- Detailed maintenance procedures for any fire suppression equipment
- Operation instructions including the type and location of all fire or emergency systems
- Alternative (back-up) fire safety measures
- How to properly allow the fire department access to the building
View Halifax, Nova Scotia’s, fire safety plan template by clicking here if you’d like to see an example. (You may be able to find one for your specific city by doing a quick Google search!)
Adequate Fire Suppression Equipment
Depending on the work environment, you’ll likely need different types of fire suppression. No matter the type(s) of fire suppression equipment used, employees should be trained on its proper use. You should only use fire suppression equipment if you have received proper training. Examples of some of the more typical types of fire suppression/control systems are:
- Fire sprinklers – These will be activated automatically in the case of a fire
- Fire exits – Doors with illuminated exit signs show you the best emergency exit route in case of a fire
- Fire alarm – A device that makes a loud noise to warn people of a fire. Typically there will be devices located near emergency exits that allow you to sound these alarms, or they may automatically sound when a fire is detected.
- Smoke detector – An alarm that will sound if smoke is detected
- Standpipe and hose system – These are usually located in the hallway and serve as a pre-formed connection to a water supply (basically, an extension of the fire hydrant system). They are most common in buildings with large floor plans where areas of the space are a great distance from any entrances. These systems should only be used by specially trained personnel.
- Fire extinguishers – These are usually mounted on the wall near exits or near flammable equipment. Read on to learn more about fire extinguishers!
There should be at the very minimum one fire extinguisher for each level of your workspace. If your work environment/building includes a kitchen, workshop, garage or basement, each of these spaces should have its own fire extinguisher.
You should only attempt to use a fire extinguisher if the fire is contained to a single object. Make sure you and everyone else in the building are safe from both the fire and smoke, and that the fire is not blocking your only exit from the building. ALWAYS prioritize your safety and exit the building to wait for professional assistance if you feel you are unable to put the fire out on your own.
How to use a fire extinguisher
It is very important that you are using the correct type of fire extinguisher when attempting to put out a fire. There are five classes of fire extinguishers – A, B, C, D and K – Each class puts out a different type of fire. Evaluate worksites for potential fire hazards and have the correct extinguisher on-hand for the types of materials used.
Fire extinguisher classes:
- Class A – Ordinary combustibles like wood or paper
- Class B – Flammable liquids like grease, gasoline, and oil
- Class C – Electrically energized fires
- Class D – Flammable metals
- Class K – Kitchen fires, effective on cooking oils, animal fats, and vegetable oils
You can purchase multipurpose extinguishers that are suitable for more than one class (A-B, B-C or A-B-C). You’ll find a label on the side of fire extinguishers that show which classes it should be used on.
If it is safe to do so, using the correct extinguisher, follow the PASS method to use your extinguisher:
- P – Pull the pin, this will break the tamper seal
- A – Aim low, pointing the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire. Do not hold by the horn/nozzle because if it is a CO2 extinguisher, it will get very cold and could harm the skin.
- S – Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent
- S – Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire and fuel source until the fire is out
If you have an issue during any of these steps, do not continue and exit the building immediately.
Proper Handling and Storage of Flammable Materials
Flammable materials include anything that easily or rapidly ignites and burns. Flammable materials are not rare, and many workplaces use at least a few in their everyday operations! Following labels and doing research is the best way to know exactly what within your workplace is flammable, but some examples are:
- Gases – Natural gas, propane, butane, methane, acetylene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide.
- Liquids – Gasoline, many solvents such as acetone, alcohol, paint and paint thinner, adhesives, degreasers, certain cleaners, waxes, and polishes.
- Solids – Some types of coal, pyrophoric metals, solid wastes soaked with flammable liquids, gunpowder, matches
Employers are responsible for developing work procedures for the use and storage of any flammable materials used within your job, and to ensure that all employees are trained on those procedures. These procedures should include:
- Spill clean up
- Incompatible materials
- Use and maintenance of any controls used in the workplace such as ventilation
- Required personal protective equipment (PPE) when using the materials
- Fire protection and prevention measures
- An outline of any special circumstances which may require additional precautions or training (e.g. confined spaces)
Storage of Flammable Materials
Flammable materials must not be stored near exits, electrical equipment or heating equipment. They should be separated by type and stored in well-ventilated storage areas, away from any potential sources of ignition.
Always ensure and flammable materials are stored in appropriate containers made for these types of materials. Refer to regulations in your area when transferring materials from the container you purchase it in, as many jurisdictions have specific standards that must be met. Some Fire Codes also include requirements for storage, handling, and maximum amounts of flammable materials permitted in a building.
Always remember to label any portable containers with the necessary information often found on the original container, such as:
- Container contents
- If contents are flammable
- If the container should be kept away from ignition sources (e.g. heat, spark, and open flames)
- The container should be kept closed when not in use
- A reference to the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the product
Handling of Flammable Materials
There are three main ways to prevent fires with handling flammable materials:
- Limit the amount of flammable materials
- Keep only what is needed on site
- Purchase only the amount of materials needed
- Do not allow hazardous waste build-up by removing it on a regular basis
- Provide proper ventilation to ensure flammable vapors do not accumulate
- Install proper ventilation in work and storage spaces
- Ensure all exhausts lead outside the building and away from any air intakes
- Maintain ventilation system following any building codes that may apply
- Control ignition sources
- Ground and bond all work and ignition-proof equipment
- Ensure that there is no smoking in work areas where flammable materials are used or stored
- Never store flammable materials near hot equipment or open flames
- Use safe and non-sparking tools
Safe Housekeeping Practices
As with many health and safety precautions, housekeeping can really make or break your efforts. You can have access to the best fire suppression equipment possible, but it won’t do any good if that equipment is hidden behind a stack of improperly stored boxes. As well, clutter is fuel to a fire and can inhibit your access to emergency exits.
Below is a general housekeeping checklist that can be followed to aid in fire prevention. If your workspace includes elements like a full kitchen, laundry facilities, spray finishing services, or large refrigeration units, additional elements will need to be added to your list!
Click here to download this checklist as a PDF if you’d like to print and use it for your workplace housekeeping – Or, sign-up here and find more Safety Topics & downloadable content to share at your next Toolbox Talk.
Interested in bringing your workplace safety to the next level? Through our Hercules Training Academy, we offer an extensive suite of high-quality safety training and certification courses. Whether you’re looking for initial or refresher training, we provide practical, hands-on courses designed to exceed the minimum safety requirements. We have Red Cross standard first aid, Red Cross emergency first aid and WHMIS 2015 with GHS just to name a few that may come in handy with your fire prevent measures! You can check out all of our course offerings by clicking here!