Preventing and Addressing Fires in an Industrial Workplace

April 9 2020

Preventing and Addressing Fires in an Industrial Workplace

Let’s face it nobody wants to imagine a fire of any scale in the workplace. But if there’s a fire happening at your facility, you won’t have time to research what to do. 

Fire safety preparedness and baseline knowledge are critical for business owners, facility managers, and all employees, regardless of industry or workplace environment.

Businesses in the industrial sector face particular risks due to working with hazardous materials, dangerous equipment and processes, and large scale operations often with many employees. They simply can’t afford to downplay the risk of fire in the workplace.

Here are some tips all business owners and facility managers should have in their back pocket to prevent and address fires in the industrial workplace environment, keep employees safe, and protect business assets.

First and Foremost, Focus on Fire Prevention

The majority of fires in the workplace and therefore property damage and financial loss are preventable. 

According to figures from Factory Mutual, more than half of all fires and nearly three-fourths of property damage could be avoided through preventative maintenance and frequent inspection and testing.

Considering an estimated 37,910 fires occurred in industrial and manufacturing properties between 2011 and 2015, totaling $1.2 billion in property damage per year (NFPA), the preventability of such events is nothing to discount. 

Before all else, the best thing business owners and facilities managers can do is focus on workplace fire prevention to avoid both minor issues and major catastrophes. This includes:

  • Regular inspections and systems maintenance to ensure your fire protection systems are compliant and functioning properly
  • Expert-led walkthroughs and fire hazard assessments to identify and understand the unique needs, risks, and recommended strategies for your specific operation 
  • Empowering your employees with regular trainings and fostering a culture where everyone is responsible for fire prevention, protection, and safety

Understand the Biggest Risks and Stay Vigilant 

When emphasizing fire prevention, a logical place to focus on is the most common industrial workplace fire risks. In an NFPA study, heated equipment, shop tools, and industrial equipment were found to be the leading causes of structural fires in industrial or manufacturing facilities. 

Some of the most common industrial fire and explosion risks include:

  • Hot work - Avoid hot work whenever possible; Otherwise, ensure all staff are properly trained, keep the area thoroughly cleaned, and supervise the work. 
  • Combustible dust - Follow regular and thorough housekeeping to minimize the accumulation of dust.
  • Electrical Hazards - Avoid exposed wires and extension cords, prevent overloading electrical equipment or circuits, unplug all equipment when not in use, and use antistatic equipment where required by NFPA or OSHA.
  • Flammable Liquids and Gas - Reference the material safety data sheet (MSDS) to know the safety information for these materials, including proper storage and handling.

Stay vigilant in keeping these common offenders top of mind, regularly cleaned, and properly maintained. 

Emergency Action Plan

Minor events can develop into emergency scenarios quickly. 

Although OSHA’s emergency requirements vary by industry, an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is highly recommended (if not required) for nearly every business and industry. EAPs clearly define actions and protocols for employees to follow in emergency situations, including reporting incidents, evacuating facilities, and accounting for all employees after an evacuation.

A robust EAP should be informed by your facility's fire risk assessment, and tailored around the specific layout, hazards, and existing systems of each work site. Include your EAP when onboarding every new hire, revisit and update your EAP annually, and train all employees on emergency protocols regularly. 

Responding to Fire in the Workplace

With fire prevention as a baseline, it’s vital to then know if and when to act to minimize harm.

Here are the 3 most important things employees need to know about responding to fires in the workplace:

  • If a fire starts at work, you are not required to attempt to put out the fire — even if there is a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • If you see an incipient-stage fire at work, you should quickly make the decision to fight —discharge an extinguisher toward the fire — or flight — pull the building fire alarm and get out of the building. Whichever you choose, execute your plan quickly.
  • Many employees' first reaction in a fire is to call for a boss or authority figure. Employees need to be trained to react quickly, not to wait for instruction. Quick action saves lives and property.

Industrial operations face particular risks when considering fire prevention and fire safety. All business owners and facility managers should have this baseline knowledge in order to prevent and respond to industrial workplace fires effectively. 

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