According to the most recent 2020 estimate from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 111,000 workplace fires occur annually in the U.S., causing roughly 100 deaths, 1100 injuries, and 3.4 billion dollars in structural damage. If you’re a business owner with a brick-and-mortar retail location or office space, it’s crucial that you know which preventive measures to take against potential fire hazards, as well as how to respond in the event of an emergency.
Protect your business, customers, and employees with precautions that minimize the risk of a fire before it can happen. You’ll want to think ahead with an actionable, decisive contingency plan to maximize both human safety and financial recovery during the aftermath of a workplace fire emergency. Here are some immediate steps to plan for—both before and after a fire—in order to have the best possible chance of making a complete recovery:
What to Do Before a Fire Occurs:
We recommend breaking down your action plan into four simple steps. Keep in mind, every organization’s fire prevention plan will look different or require varied equipment.
1. Reduce the Amount of Fire Hazards Onsite
One of the easiest ways to lower the chances of a fire being sparked is to routinely inspect for fire hazards, and remove them as necessary. Here’s how to cut down on—or at least contain—the number of fire hazards in your own workplace:
- Don’t overload power strips or electrical outlets
- Turn off all equipment before leaving the office
- Clear out stairwells to ensure a smooth evacuation
- Inspect all electrical wires, circuits, and insulation
- Make sure appliance cords aren’t worn are frayed
- Keep electrical or heat sources off flammable surfaces
- Store flammable materials in secure, ventilated areas
2. Appoint a Fire Safety Officer on Your Staff.
Don’t allocate fire safety responsibilities to a random group of team members and hope they can fulfill these tasks on top of their existing roles. Appoint a building safety officer, whose job is to manage risks and ensure the following protocols are in place:
- Identify and resolve fire hazards (i.e. the examples above)
- Check for and implement OSHA and EPA compliance
- Evaluate and maintain fire alarms and other equipment
- Communicate and schedule quarterly fire evacuation drills
- Coordinate with local first responders and emergency services
- Make sure employees have the right safety tools and gear
3. Perform Routine Safety Equipment Checks.
All fire safety equipment at your business must be inspected on a monthly basis to confirm it’s functional and up to code. A building safety officer can handle the routine checks, but this equipment also needs to be professionally serviced at these times:
- Smoke Detectors: every six months
- Fire Sprinklers: once a year
- Fire Extinguishers: once a year
- Carbon Monoxide Alarms: every six months
4. Prepare Secure Records and Documents.
In the event of a fire, you’ll need to make sure critical business information is both safe and accessible. Here are some advance measures to take when securing valuable records or documents to protect your assets before a fire occurs:
- Make a list of all necessary contacts’ phone numbers and emails
- Create video or photo evidence of the business for loss reimbursement
- Perform a weekly computer backup of all files securely to the cloud
- Make a list of all the business inventory, supplies, and machinery
- Store accounting records or other financial documents in a secure place
- Have a pre-loss agreement in writing with a restoration company
What to Do After a Fire Occurs:
In the event of a fire, your first priority should be to evacuate the premises as quickly as possible with all team members. Once it is clear to return to your space, consider taking the following steps.
1. Shut off All Water, Electric and Gas Utilities
Your first instinct might be to assess the damage after a fire occurs. When you do this, keep in mind not to touch anything that could be unsafe or remove anything that could impact your insurance claim. However, you will need to turn off the utilities to minimize further shocks or hazards. Be sure to take the following measures:
- Flip the main switch on the breaker box to turn off the electrical power
- Use a crescent wrench to turn off the gas meter valve outside the building
- Use a crescent wrench or meter key to turn off the main water valve
2. Contact Your Business Insurance Provider
As a business owner, physical harm is not the only issue of concern in a fire. As the dust settles, contact your insurance provider to begin the claims process. The company will send an insurance adjuster to evaluate the situation and talk through options, based on your coverage:
- Commercial Property: This insurance plan covers the building (if you own it) and your assets in the building such as inventory, furniture, and equipment
- General Liability: This insurance plan covers any damage or injuries to a third party (e.g. vendor, employee or customer) due to a fire at your business
- Business Owner’s Policy: This insurance plan combines the protection of both general liability and commercial property coverage under the same umbrella
3. Inform Everyone Else Who Needs to Know.
After you’ve been in touch with the insurance company, make sure all other relevant parties know what took place and how it will affect your business operations in the coming months. Here are the main people and entities you’ll want to inform:
- Employees and customers
- Vendors or suppliers
- Local law enforcement
- Postal services
- Utility providers
- Credit card companies
- Financial advisors
- Banks or lenders
Fire Emergencies Happen—Make Sure You Have a Plan
If you need expert assistance on how to monitor your fire sprinkler system before a fire takes place or how to safely respond after a fire occurs, A&A Fire Protection offers our clients access to a 24–7 emergency hotline. The number to call is 864-859-9700, and it’s even reachable on weekends, evenings or holidays. We ensure that you will speak to a live person and receive immediate, thorough attention. Fires are unpredictable, but we’ll help guide your next steps.