Do you have a plan?
By John Davenport
What would your employees do if the fire alarm sounded right now? Would it surprise you to learn that, in many instances, they would simply ignore it?
It’s not uncommon for people to assume a fire alarm is a false alarm if they can’t actually see the flames. Many people won’t exit the building unless they see their supervisor leaving, need a break, or just can’t stand the sound of the alarm.
Fire is one of the few universal hazards that all workplaces share. Whether you are on a construction site, in an office building, or anywhere in between, fire can strike without warning—sometimes from external sources beyond your control. That’s why every Texas business needs good fire safety and evacuation plans. Equally important, every employee needs to understand the company’s fire safety and evacuation plans so they’ll know what to do and where to go in an emergency.
Plan to practice
An office curmudgeon once said that the best way to keep a secret is to put it in the company handbook on policies and procedures. There is a sad grain of truth in such cynicism: Too often, safety procedures are compiled, filed and forgotten.
Don’t let that happen to your fire safety plan. Make it a part of the company culture. Use fire drills as real practices, and make sure everyone treats the practice like the real thing.
Nobody will have time to dig through the files to review the fire safety plan when the alarm sounds; they have to know what to do and where to go. In a real fire emergency, they may have only one chance to get it right.
Learn from history’s mistakes
Many of our country’s workplace safety efforts began in response to a single catastrophic incident: the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. Approximately 150 women and young girls died because of locked fire exits and inadequate fire extinguishing systems.
A more recent tragedy demonstrates the need to plan for protecting customers as well as employees. The 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island killed 100 people and injured many more. Based in part on video evidence, fire analysts believe most concertgoers ignored other exits and ran to the main entrance to escape.
Your business should have an adequate number of exits, readily accessible and illuminated at all times. Employees must be able to open all emergency exit doors without keys, tools or special knowledge. If your business is open to the public, train your employees on how to help customers out of the building in an emergency.
Remember that poor visibility, panic and confusion can cause more injuries and fatalities than the fire itself. Be sure to take this into consideration when planning and practicing your evacuation.
Evacuate or extinguish?
Usually, businesses apply one of three plan types for dealing with a fire in the workplace: all employees try to fight the fire before evacuating; designated employees try to fight the fire while all other employees evacuate; or all employees evacuate. The right plan for your business depends on the specific circumstances of your workplace.
Regardless of which plan you implement, be sure to activate the fire alarm. If your site does not have a fire alarm system, dial 911, and report the fire from a safe location. Remember: It is better to have firefighters respond and not be needed than to have them arrive too late for a potential rescue.
Some fire safety plans call on some or all employees to try to extinguish a fire using portable fire extinguishers. If you provide portable fire extinguishers for your employees, you need to mount, locate and identify the extinguishers so they can access them without subjecting themselves to possible injury.
Today’s portable fire extinguishers include a picture-symbol labeling system. They also emphasize when not to use the extinguisher on certain types of fires. Make sure you provide the best fire extinguisher for the most likely type of fire in your workplace, and train your employees on the proper use of the extinguisher using the PASS method.
P-A-S-S is an acronym for: Pull the pin; Aim low at the base of the fire; Squeeze the handle; and Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire.
Always make sure that the extinguisher is in its place and easily accessible, that its pressure gage shows fully charged, and that its pin and tamper seal are intact. Perform a maintenance check on all extinguishers at least annually, and keep a record for one year after last entry (or life of shell, whichever is less).
Wait for the professionals
Fighting fire is not simple, especially if flammable chemicals are involved. If your first attempts fail to put out the fire, evacuate the scene, and wait for the fire department to arrive. If possible, the last person to leave the area should close all doors and windows to help keep the fire from spreading.
All employees should meet at a designated area, well away from the fire. Take a head count, and make sure everyone got out okay. If anyone is missing, tell the fire fighters when they arrive. Never re-enter the scene of the fire without permission from the fire department.
Use safety resources
Many local fire departments provide fire safety presentations for businesses. Texas Mutual® policyholders may also learn about fire safety and emergency evacuation plans from the Safety Resource Center at texasmutual.com.