Fires are a preventable catastrophe that can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, loss of production, loss of jobs, and loss of lives.
When harnessed properly, fire can be one of our greatest allies in the workplace, a more than useful partner of industry. However, when it’s uncontrolled, fire can become our worst and most feared enemy.
Said simply, everyone has a vested interest in preventing fires in the workplace.
Improving fire safety practices in your workplace
While every workplace has its own unique fire prevention needs, there are certain steps we can each take to reduce the risk of fires starting and spreading.
Here are 13 simple workplace fire safety tips that you can follow.
01. Practise good housekeeping
Waste and clutter can provide a good source of fuel for a fire. Look after your work area and make sure you keep it clean and free from waste.
This is especially important when dealing with highly flammable materials. When exposed to a naked flame, flammable materials can transform from a small issue into a potentially deadly problem.
02. Never store flammables such as oily or solvent soaked rags
Speaking of flammable materials; you should ensure that flammable waste is thrown away rather than stored. If a fire starts spreading, you don’t want it to come into contact with oily rags, methylated spirits, or gas bottles.
Flammable waste such as oily rags should be placed in a covered metal container and disposed of regularly. Empty gas bottles should be exchanged rather than stored, and new gas bottles should be stored according to relevant OH&S and environmental standards.
03. Don’t over store products in your area
The over-storage of products doesn’t just provide more fuel for a spreading fire. It can also cause sprinklers, fire-fighting equipment, and emergency exits to become blocked.
04. Observe “No Smoking” signs
Smoking should only take place in designated areas, and cigarettes should be disposed of in the bins provided. A partially extinguished or unextinguished cigarette butt is a heat source that can easily cause a fire, especially if you are smoking in the wrong area.
05. Use and store chemicals safely
When it comes to workplace fire safety, it’s essential to treat chemicals with respect. Many chemicals are flammable and have other hazards associated with them. It’s important to identify these chemicals so you can use and store them with care.
Chemicals are most common in manufacturing and industrial settings, but your average office will more than likely be home to a few common chemicals. The products in your cleaning cupboard and the supplies you use for your printer are just some examples of common chemicals in the workplace.
Read the label and the Safety Data Sheet to determine flammability and other potential fire hazards associated with each chemical. You should then act accordingly to ensure not only fire safety but broader workplace safety.
06. Keep electrical fittings in good order, and report any electrical hazards
Faulty electrical equipment and live electrical hazards are some of the most common causes of workplace fires.
Fires may start and spread due to:
- a build-up of moisture or dust on electrical outlets
- overheating caused by an overloaded circuit
- poor electrical installations
- faulty wiring and electrical equipment
- and more
Practically every workplace is at risk of electrical fires, while workplaces that are classed as hazardous atmospheres may be at greater risk of fires and explosions caused by electrical faults.
To avoid fires, follow best practices for maintaining electrical equipment. Keep all equipment clean and free from moisture and avoid using adaptors and long electrical leads if possible.
Electrical equipment should be inspected, tested, and maintained according to relevant Australian Standards. For example, AS/NZS 3000:2007 is the relevant standard for electrical testing and fault finding in hazardous atmospheres. A qualified member of your team can perform regular risk assessments, tests, and maintenance. If you don’t have a qualified team member, you should arrange regular inspections with an external party.
Finally, you should have fire-fighting equipment on site that is suitable for dealing with electrical fires.
07. Be prepared in the event of an emergency
If a fire does start, it’s important to act fast and remain calm. Ensure emergency phone numbers and other important details are immediately accessible. You may need to notify the fire brigade (ring 000), other staff members, and your switchboard.
Act to contain and extinguish the fire if possible, and rescue or assist your colleagues in immediate danger if it is safe for you to do so.
If you need to evacuate, follow the instructions of your designated Fire Warden as well as relevant evacuation procedures. Ensure you are a safe distance from the building once evacuated.
08. Perform fire drills at work
Being well drilled in your exit and evacuation plan can be life-saving in the event of a workplace fire. Workplace fire drills should be completed at least once a year, although many bodies recommend quarterly fire drills. In some workplaces, it may be practical to run regular fire drills according to department rather than evacuating the entire company at once.
Fire drills should be taken seriously, and each staff member should treat each other and the activity with respect and professionalism.
Regular drills also give you the chance to appoint and review your Fire Warden or Fire Marshall. Depending on the size of your business, you may also have a Chief Warden and different wardens for each area. Additional formal training is usually recommended for these wardens, as they will not only oversee fire drills but also take the lead in the case of an actual fire.
09. Keep combustible materials clear when cutting or welding
If you complete welding, cutting, or similar activities in the workplace, you should have designated areas where these tasks are performed. These tools often produce sparks when they are used, and this can act as an ignition source. Be sure to keep combustible and flammable materials away from sparking tools and designate these areas as strict no-smoking sections of the workplace. In certain situations, you may also need to invest in spark-resistant tools. Complete a risk assessment to see if this applies to you.
10. Ensure your workplace is fitted with relevant fire safety equipment
There are many different types of fire safety equipment, and your needs will vary based on your workplace and the fire safety hazards you are exposed to.
Just some of the fire safety equipment you may need in the workplace includes:
- Smoke alarms/smoke detectors (must be tested regularly and have batteries replaced yearly)
- The right kind of fire extinguishers for your workplace, including a portable fire extinguisher
- Fire blankets
- First Aid Kits
- Emergency Exits, Lights and Signage maintained according to AS 2293:2005
Proper training should be provided for all fire safety equipment.
11. Know the location of fire fighting equipment in your workplace
Being able to access a fire blanket or fire extinguisher quickly could be the difference between a contained fire and one that spreads out of control. Similarly, having fast access to a first aid kit could minimise the impact of fire-related injuries.
Always take note of the emergency exits in your workplace and ensure smoke alarms are installed in the required locations according to Australian Standards.
12. Know how to use a fire extinguisher properly
Research shows that the vast majority of fires (95%) can be extinguished if we act promptly and use the right fire extinguisher. Despite this, less than 50% of people are confident in using a fire extinguisher, and 87% of us aren’t even aware that there are different extinguishers for different fires.
There are six main types of fire extinguishers and six different classes of fire.
For fire extinguishers, there are Water, Foam, Carbon Dioxide, and Wet Chemical fire extinguishers, as well as two classes of Dry Powder fire extinguishers (ABE and BE). Each fire extinguisher is identifiable by the coloured band on the body of the extinguisher.
The different classes of fire are labelled from Class A to Class F. Each fire is labelled based on the cause of the fire.
For example, Class A Fires are caused by solid flammable materials like wood or paper. Most fire extinguishers can be used for these fires.
Class F Fires are caused by cooking oils and fats. Wet Chemical extinguishers are the only recommended option for fighting these fires, although foam and Dry Chemical Powder BE extinguishers may have limited use.
Class D Fires are caused by flammable metals. No fire extinguishers are recommended to contain these fires.
You should familiarise yourself with the different classes of fire, and which extinguishers are suitable for each type of fire. Several members of your team should then be trained in the correct use of each type of fire extinguisher that you have in your workplace.
13. Staff fire safety training is essential
Fire safety training encompasses all the points mentioned above and more. There are general points to consider, as well as specific fire safety training to match your workplace circumstances.
While you can appoint managers, communications officers, and fire wardens, every team member should receive basic fire training. Employees who are informed, observant, educated, and fast-acting can save lives and property in the case of a fire.
Ensure all new employees are trained and refresh existing team members regularly. Make sure you review your fire safety policies and procedures, so you are always offering the latest, safest, and best information to your team.
In the Event of An Emergency, Be Fire Safe!
When it comes to fire safety, familiarisation is incredibly important. Since a fire can spread out of control within a few seconds, there’s no use having a ‘rough idea’ of what should happen.
You should be very clear on your organisation’s evacuation plan and fire-fighting steps right away… After all, you won’t have time to start reading instructions during a fire!
In the event of an emergency, it is important that you remain calm, assess the situation, raise the alarm, call the fire brigade, assist anybody in immediate danger (only if it is safe to do so), and then evacuate the area.
Finally, if you are attempting to extinguish a fire, always keep a clear line of sight on your escape routes – nothing is worth the cost of a human life.
For more information on fire safety training, click here.