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Fire Prevention Planning: Don’t Get Burned

There are some 100,000 workplace fires every year in the United States, resulting in losses in the billions of dollars. And the human toll is high as well. The National Safety Council estimates that fires and burns account for 3 percent of all occupational fatalities. 

Because of the substantial risks and costs associated with workplace fires, OSHA requires you to have a fire prevention plan (29 CFR 1910.39) that incorporates:

  • A list of the major workplace fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment
    needed to control each major hazard
  • Names and job titles of employees responsible for maintaining equipment installed to prevent or control sources of ignition and fires
  • Names and job titles of employees responsible for controlling fuel source hazards
  • Procedures for controlling accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials
  • Procedures for regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials

OSHA also recommends that you include key elements from your emergency action plan (29 CFR 1910.38) in your fire prevention plan, such as:

  • Emergency evacuation procedures and exit route assignments
  • Procedures for employees who must stay behind to maintain or curtail critical operations before evacuation
  • Procedures for counting heads after evacuation is complete
  • Rescue and medical duties for those assigned to perform them
  • Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency
  • Names and job titles of employees who can dispense information about the emergency action plan

Your written fire prevention plan must be made available to employees for review, unless you have 10 or fewer employees in a facility, in which case, you can communicate the plan orally.

Additional Considerations

Liability. Fire prevention plans make sense, on a pragmatic level, for controlling potential liability. The death of a worker from a fire or emergency-related cause in the workplace can subject companies to
federal prosecution if OSHA standards were not met. When OSHA conducts workplace inspections, it checks to see if employers are complying with fire safety standards. Preventing fire-related deaths in the
workplace can be as simple as properly marking fire exit locations, periodically testing fire-extinguishing and alarm systems, and developing effective evacuation plans. To better protect your organization from
liability, have an attorney look over your emergency action plan and fire prevention plan to verify completeness in addressing compliance issues.

Unions. Before any drastic changes to a fire prevention or emergency action plan are implemented, they must be discussed with union representatives. The safety of employees is a mandatory bargaining issue, and any unilateral change to an evacuation procedure will need to be discussed before its implementation.

Shiftworkers. All employees have to be able to move quickly and appropriately if there is an emergency situation. To achieve this end, you must conduct emergency training and fire drills for workers on all shifts. This includes scheduling fire drills on each shift. Every employee must have the opportunity to actually hear what the fire alarm sounds like and to participate in drills.

Your fire prevention plan is one very important piece of a comprehensive fire prevention policy that brings together all the elements of workplace fire prevention from planning to implementation. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the points that a fire prevention policy should cover.

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