When was the last time you thought about—or revisited—your organization’s fire safety and evacuation plan?
In 2020, a whopping 16,500 fires blazed through offices and retail stores, causing a devastating $932 million in direct property damage, reveals the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Cooking mishaps led the charge, with electrical malfunctions, heating sources, malfunctioning appliances, and outright carelessness trailing close behind.
These findings and associated injuries and deaths resulting from commercial fires warrant emergency planning.
While business owners already face multitudes of concerns, such life-saving protocols should never be overlooked. In fact, many of the following tips are based on legal requirements. Meaning, they’re not merely recommendations but necessities that must also factor in your location, building size, occupancy type, and other standards mandated by your local fire marshal and municipality.
Below we’ll discuss five fire prevention tips to protect your employees, assets, and property from safety hazards, including smoke inhalation and fire, carbon monoxide, and more.
1. Draft & Implement a Carefully Curated Evacuation Plan
Whether a multi-location commercial property with hundreds of employees, or a small business with just a handful, drafting and implementing a comprehensive evacuation plan should be a top priority. And is mandated in nearly every municipality and county.
Create an employee committee to lead your company’s emergency evacuation process, and pay careful attention to disabled employees requiring special assistance.
In accordance with the federal “ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments,” pre-emergency planning should also be inclusive of disabled employees. While it’s important to test and modify evacuation processes, enlisting those with disabilities for suggestions and feedback will ensure all plan phases align with ADA requirements and other local laws.
Clearly mark and illuminate quick exits, and post evacuation route maps within common areas, stairwells, and elevators. Employees must learn all appropriate exits.
You must also enlist a local fire marshal to assess your fire risk and help you create a fire prevention plan. Your building’s property manager is another helpful resource throughout this process. And don’t forget that the NFPA has handbooks and guides on fire safety codes for offices and retail stores, as you prepare your commercial business to be fire prevention compliant.
According to the National Fire Protection Association , there were 18,700 fires within offices and retail stores during 2019, incurring more than $740 million in direct property damage.
2. Test & Inspect Fire Safety Devices
While common fire prevention and safety devices include smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, commercial businesses should also have fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems, as is often required by law.
Regularly inspecting and testing these is just as important as ensuring functionality. A non-working fire safety device due to low batteries, electrical malfunction, and other issues could lead to injuries and loss of life, escalate an emergency, and violates fire safety codes.
Similarly, while a beeping carbon monoxide detector can mean detected gas, it’s often a sign you need to replace batteries or the device itself. Routine inspections will also help avoid the unnecessary anxiety employees may experience when a fire safety device or carbon monoxide detector goes off without any real threat.
While Central Station monitored fire alarm systems, extinguishers, and sprinkler systems are, in many cases, mandatory legal requirements, integrating energy-efficient smart technologies such as smart smoke and heat detectors can provide additional protection for your assets and employees. These advanced systems, while not always required by law, offer enhanced capabilities in fire detection and notification.
Depending on make and model, some Fire Alarm Systems are compatible with your smart security and access control system, and in addition to being monitored, can immediately alert you to a threat. Smart technology can even turn off your air system to prevent the spread of smoke while employees evacuate the building and inform them where to go during an evacuation. Heat detectors can even track the rapid rise of temperature in a room and instantly inform you of fire danger.
A reputable fire safety provider such as General Security will assist you along every step of the way—from helping design and draft emergency plans to installing the optimal devices and technologies to ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations and conducting inspections, and maintenance. Prior to activation, final checks include ensuring all security alarm panels, batteries and fuses, input/output signals, detectors, and other safety features are working properly.
If any part of your system seems out of order, your security and fire safety provider can conduct inspections and tests at appropriate intervals, in accordance with municipal fire codes and fire marshal regulations. Consistent maintenance is central to fire prevention.
It’s also prudent to add 24/7 Central Station Monitoring. Should an emergency occur, first responders will be dispatched to your location, whether you’re onsite or not. You’ll also receive real-time smart alerts through the Alarm.com app.
Regularly maintained, cleaned, and inspected fire safety systems prevent false alarms, fines, and potential lawsuits. They can also garner insurance provider discounts. It’s best to ask your carrier representative for additional information.
3. Conduct Periodic Fire & Safety Drills
In the face of a potential disaster, preparation is the key to ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone involved. Establishing an emergency evacuation plan isn't just a precaution; it's a legal necessity. Assigning designated employee leaders not only creates a structured system but also instills a sense of responsibility and accountability.
While most remember fire drills from school days, in a professional setting, these drills become more critical. They act as real-time tests of the effectiveness of the evacuation strategy. By conducting regular fire drills and mandatory emergency event simulations, businesses ensure that employees are familiar with exit routes and safe zones. Such drills also allow an opportunity to spot bottlenecks or challenges in evacuation routes, giving businesses a chance to fine-tune their procedures.
However, merely having fire safety devices isn't enough.
Regularly testing these devices, from smoke alarms to sprinkler systems, ensures they're functional when needed most. Evaluating evacuation methods and other safety measures, such as the clarity of emergency announcements and the availability of emergency kits, can make the difference between chaos and a well-executed evacuation.
4. Watch for Electrical Hazards
While many fires are caused by accidents and faulty devices, it’s also important to inspect electrical equipment and wires. Overloading or overextending power cords can lead to surges and overheating. It’s never recommended to try and jam a two-prong plug into a three-prong outlet, or vice-versa. Avoid extension cords, which could be an open invitation for trips and falls.
Printers, copiers, computers, and other electrical office equipment should be kept away from water and heating sources to avoid electrical shocks and overheating.
Again, consult with your local fire marshal, fire safety provider, and municipal fire prevention guidelines to ensure your electrical infrastructure or use are compliant with all legal requirements.
While common fire prevention and safety devices include smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, commercial businesses must also have fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems.
5. Establish Fire Safety Rules Within Kitchens
& Common Areas
With the NFPA deeming cooking accidents the leading cause of commercial fires, it’s important to switch off, unplug, and safely store appliances when not in use.
All areas should also be properly ventilated, especially cooking spaces and rooms storing anything flammable.
Indoor sprinklers, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, and other fire suppression equipment should be strategically placed near stoves and ovens. These appliances should also be regularly checked and maintained, to avoid accidental fires (and fines from the fire marshal.)
Keeping Your Employees & Business Safe & Sound
Safeguarding your employees, assets, and workplace from the dangers of smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide should always be at the forefront of any safety plan! A reputable fire safety device provider such as General Security can assist you with the best technologies, integrations, and protective measures.
Remember, commercial fire safety requirements can vary significantly depending on your local municipality. This variability means that your business must be particularly attentive to local codes and regulations in order to stay compliant.
However, alongside your local fire marshal, a fire safety device provider is an invaluable partner in protecting your employees, assets, and business.