Fire has been both friend and foe to mankind since time began, facilitating comfort, technological advancement, and industry, while also representing a threat to health and safety should it become uncontrolled. In modern settings, fire remains something that must be carefully controlled, particularly in the workplace. Identifying and mitigating fire hazards – with sprinkler systems, flame resistant clothing, insulation, etc. – is an important task for businesses.
The importance of fire hazard management and safety cannot be overstated. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an average of about 200 fires happen in stores, factories, offices, and other workplaces each day. In 2011, more than 140 workers died as a result of injuries sustained in workplace fires. More than 5,000 workers sustain injuries in workplace fires and explosions each year. Fire losses cost U.S. businesses more than $2 billion each year.
Fire can cost businesses in a variety of ways. Damage to buildings and equipment is one major consequence of fire. Medical costs and lost productivity resulting from worker injury is another. Businesses that have not done enough to mitigate the risk of fire can also face major expenses in terms of government fines, penalties and lawsuits.
Engaging in a comprehensive fire risk assessment and taking steps to reduce risks identified in that assessment can help businesses greatly lower their exposure to losses related to fire.
Fire Risk Assessment Basics
Fire risk assessments are typically performed in-house by a member of the company with specialized training or by a third party contracted to provide a professional, in-depth and unbiased assessment. The assessor will look for a variety of hazards and identify risks. An assessment will explore:
- Possible fire hazards and those at risk from those specific fire hazards
- Developing policies to ensure the safety of people in a building should a fire occur
- Strategies to reduce the likelihood of fires
- Ensuring adequate fire alarms and escape routes exist in the event of a fire
- Mitigating potential damage from a fire
Perhaps the most important task of the person conducting the fire assessment will be to identify potential sources of fire. These sources are many, and a detailed and thorough examination of the facility will be needed to identify all possible risks. Some common risks assessors will identify the following:
- Defective electrical sockets, fittings or devices
- Flames or sparks generated from welding, cutting, grinding or other mechanical activities
- Furnaces, ovens, kilns, etc.
- Space heaters and other portable heaters
- Cooking equipment such as hot plates or fat fryers
- Chemical storage
- Workplace activities that may result in fires
- Electrical outlet usage
- Proximity of flammable materials to sources of spark or heat
- Frictional heat sources
- Malicious actors and arsonists
Once these risks are identified, the assessor will determine the severity of these risks, assigning them values based on how likely or how damaging each risk is.
Improving Fire Safety
Depending on what risks they identify, fire risk assessment professionals will develop fire safety plans and recommendations for their clients. A fire assessment plan will not eliminate all risks, as some operations vital to the business may be impossible to eradicate. Smaller risks or risks with a remote likelihood of occurring may not be addressed by the plan. However, the plan will work to mitigate the overall risk of fire and keep the company in compliance with all relevant laws and rules regarding fire safety.
Some common issues addressed in fire safety plans include:
- Changing work procedures to reduce the risk of fire
- Instituting stricter policies regarding the storage of potentially flammable materials, ensuring they are kept away from potential sources of ignition
- Developing procedures for employees to follow in the event of a fire
- Installing new fire suppressant equipment, such as sprinkler systems, fire hydrants, ventilation, etc.
- Conducting regular fire training for employees
- Installing additional electrical infrastructure to reduce overuse of individual electrical outlets
- Installation of new safety equipment to guard against sparks and flames
- Requiring the use of fire resistant clothing by workers performing tasks that expose them to sparks, flame or other hazards
Fire Resistant Clothing
Fire resistant uniforms can greatly assist workers to avoid fire hazards. Fire resistant workwear is made from textiles designed to be difficult to ignite.
Some common professions where flame resistant clothing may be needed include:
- Jobs where electrical hazards are present, such as electrician and electric utility lineman work.
- Jobs where flash fire hazards are present, such as work in refineries, chemical plants, and some pharmaceutical work.
- Jobs where combustible dust explosion presents a hazard, such as work in the paper and pulp industry, paint manufacturing, some food processing work, etc.
- Jobs where workers come into contact with energized electrical gear.
The National Fire Profession Association 70E safety standard assigns hazard risks to various tasks and suggests appropriate fire safety clothing. For example, all garments for HRC1 through 4 are required to be resistant to electrical arcs. Fire risk assessors will typically evaluate job tasks and recommend fire safety clothing as needed.
Founded in 1932, Prudential Overall Supply is an established name in the uniform and safety apparel business and has a reputation for high-quality products. Companies seeking flame resistant workwear can depend on Prudential to provide dependable equipment that keeps their workers safe.
Fires have huge potential to cost companies substantial sums in lost productivity, damaged goods and facilities, higher insurance premiums, and litigation. Anything companies can do to reduce their risk will help limit their exposure to these costs and may help them avoid or reduce damages awarded in litigation or government penalties. Devoting the time and money towards a fire safety plan and in flame resistant workwear for employees is an investment well worth making.
Photo credit: MLB