Fire is one of the most disastrous problems faced by small business owners. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) estimates that fires cause 1,200 injuries in commercial buildings every year, with the resulting fire damage costing business owners over $2.5 billion.
While not every fire can be prevented, there are a few simple things you can do to minimise injuries and protect your property. Here are eight tips to fireproof your business.
- Comply with all local, state, and national fire safety codes
Compliance with all fire safety codes is essential. The National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code 101 contains specific requirements for emergency exits, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and other life-saving devices. You’ll also need to know your building’s occupancy rating. This rating determines how many people can occupy the space at one time. The occupancy rating also lists the types of fire suppression systems that are required for the structure. To reduce your risk of fire and to ensure safe evacuation in the event of one, you must adhere to these rules.
- Use fire-resistant construction materials
When building or remodelling a commercial space, use fire-resistant construction materials like fireproof drywall and flame-retardant floor tiles. These materials might be more expensive than ordinary building materials, but they will protect your business and save you repair costs should a fire ever break out in the building. Check your building’s occupancy rating to determine which fire persistent construction materials are required for your location.
- Install required fire-protection systems
Your business will need a fire alarm system and a fire-suppression system, such as water sprinklers. In addition, you’ll need one fire extinguisher for every 3,000 feet of space. If you’re operating a hotel or a restaurant, consider non-chemical fire-suppression systems. These systems work well in buildings with commercial oven ranges and can greatly reduce the amount of damage that a kitchen fire can create.
- Inspect fire suppression devices regularly
Commercial buildings are usually inspected every two years for possible fire code violations. These routine examinations have been proven to reduce the risk of fire and the devastating damage it causes. Consider hiring a qualified corrosion management contractor to regularly inspect your sprinkler system and other fire suppression devices in accordance with your local fire code.
- Have an evacuation plan
Make sure your workplace has a clear evacuation plan. The evacuation plan should include an office floor plan with emergency exits marked, procedures for exiting the building, and directions for reporting an emergency. You should also designate a few employees to assist visitors, disabled workers, and others who may need help evacuating the building during an emergency. Having a detailed evacuation plan and escape route will maximise your employees’ odds of survival in the event of a worst-case scenario.
- Keep office clutter down
Many workplace blazes are started by ordinary objects catching fire. Educate your employees on the importance of keeping the office clean and free of clutter. Consider implementing a cleaning policy to ensure cubicles and other workspaces stay tidy. Don’t allow employees to use electric heaters — a common culprit of workplace fires. Keep other electrical appliances away from paper, cloth, and other flammable materials.
- Keep commercial cooking spaces organised
If your business has a kitchen, it should be kept clean and organised. Consider hiring a professional service to clean your cooking equipment and appliances so the task gets done regularly. If you’re operating a restaurant, keep in mind that the building will need to have a UL 300-compliant wet chemical fire-suppression system. Kitchen fires make up the majority of workplace fires, according to the USFA.
- Train your employees in fire safety
Give your employees basic fire safety training. Your employees should know where fire extinguishers are kept and how to use them. They should also know how the fire alarm works, and what to do if one of the building’s fire-suppression devices activates. If you have a preferred method for reporting incidents, make sure your employees are aware of the proper reporting procedures.
No matter how careful you are, a fire can happen to anyone. Whatever the size of your business, protecting your employees and your property should be your top priority. Not every accident can be avoided, but following the above steps will help you limit the amount of damage a potential fire can cause. While these tips won’t make your business truly “fireproof,” they are a good starting point for preventing fire damage in your business.
Alexander Dodd is a retired fire officer who uses his articles to make people think about fire safety in their home or business.