FEMA reports that fires cost Americans $21 billion in 2020, with almost $4 billion in loss coming from commercial buildings, including warehouses and offices. Nonresidential fires also led to a loss of 115 lives in the same year--which is why fire safety in the workplace is a critical part of a business' safety and compliance programs.
There's nothing more important than your team's safety, and the Risk Management team at Axcet is here to help you get the planning and preparation right. In this post, I'll cover how to start when you're planning to conduct a fire drill at work.
1. Know What Federal & State Regulations Require for Your Business.
Did you know that OSHA requires employers to have an employee emergency and fire prevention plan in place? An emergency action plan must be in writing, kept in the workplace and available to employees for review. However, an employer with 10 or fewer employees may communicate the plan orally to employees.
In other words, if you have 11 employees in one space (including an office or warehouse), you must write out your employee emergency and fire prevention plan. If you have 10 or fewer employees in the same space, you can simply communicate the plan orally. In any event, you should have a plan.
OSHA requires compliance with other safety standards, too, such as the necessity of lighted exit signs and stairs or ramps for exits that are not level. Be sure to check your state and local requirements as well before planning.
2. Use Your Building's Layout to Familiarize Your Employees with Designated Exit Routes
Your building likely already has at least two mapped-out emergency exit routes, but you may not have maps of the exit routes that clearly communicate to employees how they should exit the building. A map of the building highlighting where employees sit, arrows showing which paths they should take in an evacuation, and separate colors delineating between primary and secondary exit routes are great places to start. As you're designing your communication, OSHA provides a helpful evacuation plan example.
3. Create and Distribute a List of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
While planning and running through your fire drill, there are several smaller details that need to be worked into a set of Standard Operating Procedures. Defining what these are and communicating them to your team effectively is key to conducting a successful drill. Distributing your list of SOPs before the drill will help all employees get on the same page and ask questions before you run through your drill.
Below is a list of common items to consider when creating your SOPs:
Fire extinguisher locations and usage guides (when to use, how to use, etc.)
The assignment of primary and secondary exits, and designating when to use each
Details on who will contact authorities and when
Definition of gathering locations once everyone has evacuated the building
Rules against re-entering the premises and gathering personal belongings
Procedures for taking attendance once the building has been evacuated
Building safety practices during the drill, including closing doors to stop the flow of oxygen, checking doors for smoke before opening them, and leaving lights on for firefighters.
How to respond in the event of a kitchen fire, i.e., using a fire blanket instead of pouring water on or fanning flames. (The greatest share of office fires originate in cooking spaces.)
4. Practice your fire drill at regular intervals.
Once you've developed communication surrounding primary and secondary exit routes and a set of standard operating procedures, you're ready to run your first fire drill. Simulating an emergency evacuation in a safe environment will help identify any holes in your plan or sources of confusion for employees.
It's important to practice your fire drill with your team's goals in mind. If you're unsure of your goals at the outset, here are a few objectives to consider:
Total safe evacuation time
Must the building be evacuated in a certain amount of time (i.e., under a minute and fifteen seconds)
Consult with your local fire department to help determine a realistic time to meet in your drills
Observing and complying with the local fire code
Determining if changes need to be made before the next drill in order to improve cohesiveness and efficiency
Identifying obstructions in the exit routes
Reaching out to authorities at the appropriate time
5. Work with an Experienced Risk Management Expert
Safety and compliance can be a significant undertaking for small businesses, but you don't need to plan for emergencies alone. The Safety and Risk Management Experts at Axcet HR Solutions are here for you before, during, and after emergency events.
Axcet’s Risk Management Consultants are workplace safety experts who are able to customize and help you implement a safety program for your business, including safety policies and procedures, evacuation plans, emergency preparedness, industry-specific safety guidelines, and first aid and CPR training.