Have you ever considered what would happen to your organization if a fire were to occur? How would operations be affected?
Every year, fire is the cause of millions of dollars in damages to Canadian businesses. And it is not only a safety issue - organizations are legally required to take certain fire prevention measures.
Organizations must manage the risk of fires in order to protect the safety of employees and customers and limit physical damage. It is imperative that any organization has a plan in place to minimize the likelihood and impact of fires.
Fire Prevention Strategies
Prevention is the most important part of any risk management strategy. By mitigating risks in advance, organizations save time, effort, and money. Fire risk management is no exception: prevention is key. Fortunately, there are many strategies an organization can put in place to help prevent fires.
1. Consider the hazards
When designing a fire prevention plan for your organization, it is important to consider and assess the hazards within your organization that can cause a fire:
- Cooking equipment
- Heating equipment
- Electrical equipment
- Smokers’ material
- Torches or welding equipment
- Hot ashes and embers
- Chemicals and other flammable liquids
- Combustible dust or residue
For further consideration on each of these hazards and how to identify them, visit the Health and Safety Authority’s website.
2. Ensure buildings are up to code
Consider all aspects of the construction, including the type of roof, what the primary structure is made of, and exterior and interior finishing materials. Buildings should be designed to fit their use: consider their occupancy and the activities that take place within them. Ideally, buildings should be either fire resistive or noncombustible.
- Fire Resistive: has the best fire resistance rating; generally reinforced concrete or protected steel construction.
- Noncombustible: constructed primarily of materials that aren’t combustible. Examples include unprotected steel and hollow concrete blocks.
Building codes change often. Risk managers should regularly check for updates and ensure consistent compliance.
3. Regularly inspect buildings and equipment
Buildings and equipment wear down over time and fire resistant materials can become less effective. When this happens, fire-related risk management is no longer operating at its full potential. Qualified professionals such as contractors, electricians, or certified inspectors should perform annual checks to see if any pieces need to be repaired or replaced. For high-risk equipment, this should occur even more frequently.
4. Build employee awareness and training programs
Prevention is only effective when all individuals play a role. If one employee creates or doesn’t report a fire hazard, all other prevention strategies may be ineffective. By building awareness and training employees on proper fire prevention procedures, organizations ensure they will be followed at all times. This lowers the risk of any fire-related incidents.
5. Designate internal safety officers
While all employees should play a role in fire prevention, giving a small party direct responsibility increases the chance of compliance. These employees should be well-versed on all prevention strategies and what tasks or people they are responsible for in case of a fire. Safety officers can also be a line of communication between frontline employees and risk managers.
6. Report fire hazards, incidents, and near-misses
If employees see a potential fire hazard, they must be able to report it quickly and easily. If the process is complex, they may not be motivated or may be unable to if they are busy with other tasks. To properly prevent fires, hazards such as electrical issues, spills, or blockages must be removed as soon as they are identified.
If a fire occurs or almost occurs, management must be made aware. Studying the root cause of past fires will allow managers to take precautions that will prevent a similar issue from happening in the future.
7. Take appropriate cautions based on identified hazards
- Be careful with explosive materials, and ensure only trained professionals are in the area where they are being used
- Do not overload outlets
- Unplug appliances when not in use or at the end of the day
- Do not bend or crush cords
- Provide adequate space for electronics and other equipment that produces heat
- Do not store combustible materials such as paper or fabrics near equipment that produces heat
- Properly store boxes, equipment, and other large items when not in use
- Quickly and appropriately dispose of spills and garbage
- Ensure employees smoke in designated areas and have an appropriate place to dispose of cigarette butts
- Have lock-up and security measures in place if arson is deemed a potential risk
8. Formalize fire prevention strategies
Once fire prevention strategies are identified and implemented, they need to be formalized to ensure they take place regularly and properly. All employees must be aware and relevant information should be publicly known.
In Case of Fire
No matter how thorough organizations are with mitigating risks, sometimes the unexpected happens. Using the following strategies will minimize the damage a fire causes if it does occur.
1. Fire detection systems
The types of devices and systems used should be carefully considered depending on the type of building, its occupancy, and its use. Always obtain professional advice before installing.
Detection systems can be automatic, such as a detector that activates when it senses smoke or a temperature change; or manual, such as a switch an employee can pull if they see smoke or fire.
Some detection systems are an audible alarm as well as flashing lights to warn of fire and in most cases to prompt evacuation. Others are “switches” designed to create a desired response. For example, some fire doors close automatically when smoke or fire is detected.
Whatever the detection system, organizations must ensure they are properly installed, regularly maintained, and that all employees know what measures to take when the alarm is activated.
2. Know what to do in case of fire
Evacuation plans and escape routes should be professionally designed, well displayed, and well-known by staff. Regularly have fire drills so employees can practice evacuation plans, and ensure they know what to do if there are customers in the building. Create fire preparation plans for any staff members who may need assistance evacuating, and have refuge areas where they can safely stay until help is available. Designate a meeting place at least 100 metres away from the premise where employees can gather after they have been evacuated.
Keep aisles and stairways clear. All furniture and equipment which may be upset under emergency conditions must be out of escape routes.
Fire exits must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure that they work and are not blocked by items stored in halls, snow, or other debris outside.
Ensure employees are properly educated on how to identify fire hazards and what to do in the event of a fire. Employees must know the location of the nearest fire extinguisher, the nearest fire alarm station, and the nearest two exits. They should also be trained on the appropriate emergency numbers to contact, and when it is appropriate to fight a fire themselves vs. evacuate and call emergency services (if a fire is small, an employee is trained on how to use a fire extinguisher, and they are not alone, it may be safe for them to do so).
3. Fire suppression systems
In addition to employee actions during a fire, organizations can consider automatic or manual fire suppression systems that will stop a fire from spreading.
Automatic fire suppression systems include sprinkler systems, chemical suppression such as CO2 and Halogen systems, and fire doors. It is crucial that fire doors are never forced or propped open, as this ruins their effectiveness.
These practical fire prevention strategies are a useful tool to help you identify your organization's risks of fire damage and minimize potential losses. To learn more about creating a fire prevention strategy for your organization, check out the Government of Canada's Planning For Safety Guide.
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Note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated for content freshness and relevance.