Some people assume that working in an office cannot be as dangerous as working in the field, but that’s only because they’ve never had a dangerous incident at work.
One risk every office worker faces is fire. While not everyone with a desk job will ever find themselves making for the exit down a smoke-filled corridor, it happens more often than most people realize. In fact, an estimated 116,500 nonresidential fires were reported in 2021 according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
While fires are unpredictable and can blaze through any workplace, there are fire safety measures that can help keep office buildings and the people who work in them safe..
The Basics of Office Fire Safety
How many people in your office can tell you exactly where the fire extinguishers are located?
How many of them have memorized the location they need to reach in the event of a fire?
Has anyone been designated as the fire marshal who will take attendance at the muster point?
None of these things should be left up to chance. Having a well-orchestrated and well-rehearsed plan that can be executed in the event of a fire can prevent chaos, minimize damage, and save lives.
Here’s what your office’s fire safety plan should include.
Know Where Fire Extinguishers Are Located
A fire can start anywhere, so it’s important for all employees to know where the fire extinguishers are located.
That isn’t enough, though. Employees should also know how they work.
Thankfully, there’s a simple mnemonic device you can use in your training sessions. Most extinguishers run using PASS:
- Pull the pin
- Aim the hose
- Squeeze the handle
- Use a sweeping motion to extinguish
Have a Clearly Stated Evacuation Route
If the alarm goes off, everyone should make their way to the muster point in a calm and orderly fashion. To minimize chaos, prevent people from getting lost, and to ensure a timely evacuation, there should be well-defined evacuation routes for every part of the building.
It is recommended to use the stairs in office towers in lieu of the elevators, but always refer back to the office evacuation plan.
(Find out How to Set Up an Evacuation Plan)
Meet at a Muster Point
All employees should be instructed to meet at a designated muster point (or assembly point). This is a gathering spot at a safe location from the building.
Meeting at the muster point helps the fire captain or supervisor do a roll call, make sure no one is missing, and identify anyone who needs medical attention.
Run Evacuation Drills
It is important to engage in practice drills at least once or twice a year to ensure that everyone in the office is aware of the potential threat of a fire and how to react in the event of one. This keeps the office team sharp and ready if an emergency ever does occur, and it allows the safety manager to determine whether there are any hiccups in the evacuation plan.
Use the Buddy System
Each employee should be paired up with another. During an emergency or evacuation, they can stick together to ensure that no one is unaccounted for.
This also helps quickly identify any workers who haven’t made it out of the facility or reached the muster point.
According to statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), most fires occur in the afternoon and are caused by cooking and storage issues.
Half the battle is in fire prevention, so be safety aware and practice extra care in the break room or when storing supplies.
Don’t Get Burned
If you’re ever in a building during a fire, here’s what you need to do:
- Stay low and below the smoke line if possible
- Close any doors that may become a passageway for fire and smoke – this can slow the spread of the fire to other areas of the office
- Get close to an extinguisher if you can
- Hold a piece of clothing over your nose and mouth so you can filter out some of the smoke – or put on an N95 of similar respirator if you have one on hand
- Stay vocal, but try not to panic
- Follow the evacuation route, go through the designated exit, and make your way to the muster point
If you’re not sure about the safety plan in your office or you’re not familiar with the evacuation route, don’t be afraid to ask. Fire safety is often taken too lightly, but the consequences of doing so can be devastating.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry – especially when you could get burned.