Who is Responsible for Fire Safety in the Workplace?

April 22 2019

Who is Responsible for Fire Safety in the Workplace?

Most people understand the importance of having the right workplace fire safety measures in place. After all, we spend about one third of our adult life at work. It makes sense that the place where we spend so much time needs to be safe. It’s why we have building fire codes and other protective measures.

What isn’t as clear, however, is who is responsible for fire safety in the workplace. What is up to the employer, what is up to the employees, and what can be left to outside vendors?

This article breaks down the most important aspects of workplace fire safety, and spells out whose job it is to ensure those aspects are met.

Employer Fire Safety Responsibilities

Create and document a workplace fire preparedness plan

It’s your responsibility as an employer to create a fire preparedness plan that covers how you prevent fires from occurring, and what to do if a fire does break out. Your documented plan should include all emergency procedures and escape routes.  

OSHA states that a business’s emergency action plan must provide the “designated actions that employers and employees must take to ensure safety from fire and other emergencies.” OSHA requires that employers record emergency action plans in writing unless there are 10 or fewer employees.

Educate all employees on fire safety procedures

It’s not enough to simply have a documented fire preparedness plan. Every employee needs to be educated about the plan. OSHA requires that the plan be reviewed with each employee at the following times:

  • When the plan is first developed
  • When the employee is assigned any specific duties or responsibilities relating to the emergency action plan, or when those assignments change
  • When the plan itself changes

Provide and maintain the required fire prevention and protection equipment

The building owner will most often take care of making sure the workplace is compliant with the latest fire codes, but there are other pieces of fire protection and prevention equipment employers must be sure to provide and maintain.

Ensure you have the right processes in place for providing, inspecting, and maintaining portable fire extinguishers, fire suppression systems, emergency lighting, and other fire safety equipment.

Train employees on proper use of fire safety equipment

According to OSHA, when employers provide fire protection equipment such as portable fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems, they must also provide employee training on the proper operation of the equipment. It is your responsibility as an employer to provide employee training on this fire safety equipment at least once per year.

Employee Fire Safety Responsibilities

Understand the options in a fire (fight or flight)

If a fire breaks out in the workplace, employees have two options: Fight or Flight. What employees don’t have, however, is an obligation to do one action or the other.

Some companies try to implement policies stating that employees are not permitted to operate fire extinguishers or fire suppression equipment to fight an incipient-stage fire. But it’s not actually possible to prevent a person from protecting him- or herself when faced with a fire. Likewise, employees cannot be required to fight a fire in the workplace.

The decision on whether to Fight or Flight is entirely up to the employee. Proper employee training helps people take the right action faster.

Practice proper safety procedures

Employees have a responsibility to pay attention to the safety procedures that are laid out in the company’s action plan. Employees need to take charge of their own life safety by participating in training and carefully reading through documented plans.

Fire Protection Vendors

Many aspects of fire prevention and protection can be outsourced to a fire protection company. Outsourcing reduces the liability for your company, while ensuring that critical inspections and maintenance are happening regularly. Let a fire protection vendor handle the following for your business:

  • Fire extinguisher inspection and maintenance
  • Fire suppression system and sprinkler system inspection and maintenance
  • Employee fire extinguisher training
  • Emergency light testing and maintenance
  • Fire hazard inspections

Workplace Safety Leaders

Often, employees take on safety leadership roles in the workplace. Whether it’s by nature of their job, such as in the industrial and manufacturing industries, or whether they are volunteer safety officers in the office, employees sometimes lead their peers in fire prevention and protection, including:

  • Directing people to follow procedures in an evacuation
  • Staying behind to perform duties such as shutting down certain equipment
  • Setting up fire safety training

Everyone within an organization has certain responsibilities when it comes to fire safety. Knowing your responsibilities—and taking the proper action—can help protect your business and save lives.

To learn more about creating your complete fire safety plan, download our free eBook.

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