Take a look around your office. Fire hazards are hiding in plain sight, and there are more of them than you think.
The story of humans and fire dates to some of the earliest records of humanity and with good reason. Over the centuries, and even today, we use fire for warmth, for cooking, for powering steam engines, for transforming raw materials into tools, and even as movie props.
But fire is also dangerous at times, which is why we fund local fire departments and have sprinkler systems in commercial properties. A fire at the wrong time or in the wrong place brings damage, injury, and even death. Needless to say, your office is the wrong place for a fire, but office fire hazards are as prevalent as many other workplace safety hazards. The good news is that many of those hazards are easy to remedy.
Common Office Fire Hazards
1. The office kitchen
Your break room might seem like a pleasant distraction from the day's hustle, but that peaceful room is hiding a dark secret. Nearly one-third of reported office fires started in a kitchen area. There are numerous possible reasons for this: microwaving aluminum foil, grease fires, forgetting something in the toaster oven. Regardless of why a fire happens, everyone in the office should know how to use a fire extinguisher and what to do if the fire gets out of control.
2. Damaged power cords
You have a lot of electronics in your office, and they all have power cords. Everything from printers to computers to your document shredder has a power cord. Over time, those cords become frayed or worn. A damaged cord leads to the possibility of an electrical shock and also the risk of sparking a fire. Perform a regular power cord audit and replace any damaged cords.
3. Overloaded outlets and extension cords
Extension cords are a temporary solution to a power supply shortage, yet you can find extension cords in long-term use in almost any office in the country. Add this to the fact that electrical outlets are often maxed out, and you have a recipe for straining your power supply that may lead to short circuits and fires.
If you find that there is more need for power than availability, you may need to hire an electrician to update your system. That's still better than risking an office fire.
4. Blocked exits
Too often, rarely used exits and hallways turn into storage spaces, but those extra chairs or old desks can slow people down or even prevent them from escaping a fire. Keep hallways and exits clear, and encourage your team to report any obstructions.
5. Personal heaters
While having a personal heater at work is a necessity sometimes, it's also important to keep them away from flammable items, like an overloaded wastebasket, for instance.
6. Fire prevention equipment
Some of the most egregious office fire hazards are the ones that you don't see, however. Every office should be equipped with working fire extinguishers in easily accessible areas. According to Encore Fire Protection, fire extinguishers have a lifespan of 5 to 15 years, depending on the quality of the equipment. One way to check the usability of a fire extinguisher is to look at the pressure gauge. If the pressure gauge needle is "not in the green, there is no guarantee that the extinguisher will function properly or at all."
Fire sprinkler systems are another well-documented way to contain fires, yet the National Fire Protection Association reports that approximately 90% of reported fires come from buildings without sprinkler systems. A sprinkler system might be a big undertaking, but given their ability to contain a fire, it's worth looking into.
7. Emergency evacuation plan
Another major office fire hazard is a failure to have an emergency evacuation plan. Your office may have a few exit signs or even a laminated paper with emergency exit routes on it, but do you have an actual, written evacuation plan? Where will people meet, and who will take attendance to ensure no one was left inside? What should people do if they can't get out?
Talk to your local fire department to see if they offer any onsite emergency planning. OSHA recommends practicing evacuation drills "as often as necessary to keep employees prepared." The more prepared you are for an emergency, the better off your entire team will be if an emergency occurs.
Pekin Insurance offers a variety of loss control services to our business insurance customers. Contact your Pekin Insurance agent today to learn more about safety training courses, OSHA compliance, and other ways we can help your business prevent losses before they turn into reality.