As a small business owner, you have a legal and ethical responsibility to keep your employees safe. Fire safety is one way in which you do this, and it’s an important one. If you own a business, no matter how large or small it may be, you are legally obligated to understand and follow fire safety laws. However, many business owners don’t understand fire safety laws to the fullest extent. Learn about the five key things your small business should be doing to keep your property, employees, and customers safe from fire dangers.
If there is a fire, you need to be sure your employees and customers have a way to get out of your building. OSHA requires that all workplace buildings have at least two fire exits that are not located in close proximity to each other that can be used in a fire emergency. This can be a door, window, or other space large enough for a person to crawl through and access the outdoors.
OSHA also requires that you keep those fire exits clear. The only thing that is allowed to block or delay the opening of a fire door is an approved alarm system that is part of the fire door’s design. Also, exit routes from the buildings need to be free of any obstructions. Finally, all exit routes must be clearly marked with lighted exit signs.
All workplace buildings are required by OSHA to have the proper type of fire extinguisher based on the type of fire hazards present. For instance, a building with a kitchen will need a fire extinguisher for grease fires, while a building with electrical fire hazards will need one for that purpose. Any employee who is in a position to need to use the fire extinguisher should be properly trained on how to use it.
Once installed, fire extinguishers must be kept in good working order. It is not permissible for fire extinguishers to be left unchecked and untested. Make sure that you follow the recommended testing and inspection schedule from the extinguisher’s manufacture, and document those inspections.
Employers should provide written emergency action plans for employees to ensure everyone knows where exit routes are and what fire emergency procedures are in place. Employers and managers need a plan to account for all employees if the building is evacuated. This plan needs to be located somewhere that employees can review it. If your business has physically impaired employees, the plan must include steps to take to evacuate those employees quickly and safely.
As part of this planning, make sure that you properly train your employees on what to do in the event of a fire. Do not assume that common sense will prevail and your employees will know what to do. Provide training and clear policies to be followed in the event of a fire, and review the training every six months to one year.
As part of your plan, host regular fire drills. These allow employees to practice the evacuation procedures when there is no actual emergency. Make sure everyone is accounted for and all proper lockdown procedures are followed during drills, so your employees will be prepared for an actual fire event.
While having a plan for dealing with emergencies is good, the best plan is to prevent emergencies altogether. The National Fire Protection Association has a list of fire prevention regulations and tips that can help your business prevent any dangers that are common in the line of work you perform. Teach your employees proper fire prevention to ward off an emergency altogether.
Keep in mind that prevention measures will vary depending on the type of business you run. A welding business is going to need different safety protocols than an office that uses computers for the majority of its work. A kitchen, where open flames are a daily occurrence, is going to have an even more lengthy set of guidelines.
Finally, OSHA requires fire suppression systems in most workplaces, such as automatic sprinkler systems. When these systems detect a fire, they automatically spray water and sound the alarm to help suppress and control the fire while alerting the proper authorities. Like fire extinguishers, these systems need to be inspected and maintained to ensure they will work properly if a fire occurs.
What happens if you do not follow these laws about fire safety? If you ignore these laws, and someone is injured or killed in a workplace fire, you may be held liable. This is not a risk worth taking. Take some time to ensure that your business is operating within the current OSHA and NFPA guidelines. For an extensive list of the current laws, rules and regulations as they apply to specific industries, visit the NFPA website. Also, make sure your building is prepared with fire prevention equipment.