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It's Fire Prevention Week: Is Your Business Ready?

Despite modern safety measures, devices and building techniques, fires still present a very real danger for businesses. Every year, upwards of 80,000 workplace fires occur, resulting in thousands of injuries and scores of deaths, so it is vital to keep fire prevention and evacuation strategies active and up to date. With Fire Prevention Week well underway (runs from October 7-13), it's a great reminder to complete an annual check up of your business’ fire strategy. 

A Long History of Fire Prevention Measures
Fire Prevention Week began in 1922 and has been observed ever since, making it "the longest running public health and safety observance on record." The dates coincide with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the city. Officials thought the anniversary of the fire was a good opportunity to remind people about the importance of fire safety. And while Fire Prevention Week focuses on public safety, the message is equally important to the private sector.

Business Fire Safety: Often a Complex Equation
Fire safety for a business can involve a host of workplace-specific considerations. The plans and measures that a low-hazard service or retail business need to implement and update are different than businesses handling combustible and/or hazardous materials. Either way, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), what’s critical is operating a safe workplace, and fire safety measures and procedures are an essential component of any safe workplace environment. Here are four high-level questions to help get an annual review of your fire safety plan and procedures started:

  • Is your fire prevention plan up to date? According to OSHA, your business must have a fire prevention plan. The plan should catalog hazardous materials and specify storage and disposal procedures. It should also include procedures for maintenance of heat-producing equipment and specify who is responsible. Be sure to update any changes to these and other critical plan information at least annually.
  • Have evacuation considerations changed? It is critical to keep your evacuation procedures up-to-date and employees up-to-speed on what should be done in the event of a fire. Take time to ensure that all of your evacuation maps are in place and up-to-date. Has the building configuration changed? Is the meeting place for staff and guests still a safe location or is there a better area to meet?
  • Are all of your systems and equipment working properly?  Be sure to test all of your smoke detectors and alarm systems regularly to make sure they are working properly. Also be sure to check that fire extinguishing resources are still in order. For example, fire extinguishers often expire after a few years and include gauges that show when they are no longer useful, so be sure to replace any that are approaching expiration.
  • Are all employees properly trained on fire prevention?  According to the City of Seattle Fire Department, employees should be trained at least once a year on your company’s fire prevention strategies. It’s also important to hold regular fire drills to ensure that evacuation procedures and where to meet are engrained in peoples’ heads so that they can act quickly and competently under pressure in the event of a fire.

Stay Vigilant
If you haven’t seen or heard about a fire for a while, it’s easy for the "out of site, out of mind" phenomenon to take over. In practically any business, however, there will always be the possibility of a fire. So be sure to have a plan in place that considers the unique aspects of your business and to regularly revisit your plan and procedures to ensure they still meet your safety needs.

Resources:
http://www.seattle.gov/fire/
http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/fire-prevention-week/about-fire-prevention-week
https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=12887 

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