Encountering a fire in the workplace is more common than you might think.

Maybe a loose wire sparks a fire. Or someone accidentally mixes two flammable chemicals together. Then what?

Why fire safety training matters

Proper fire prevention and fire emergency training could mean the difference between a little bit of smoke damage or a major office overhaul. According to one source, between 70,000 and 80,000 ‰ÛÏimpactful workplace fires” occur in the U.S. each year. More than 5,000 of these result in injury, and 200 are fatal. But only 15 percent of them are a result of circumstances outside of human control.

Emergency preparedness and fire prevention education can effectively lower the risk of a damaging or even deadly workplace fire.

Do you know how most fires start at work? Do you and your employees have the basic fire safety training needed to have to prevent catastrophic damages and injuries?

Let’s start with the five most common causes of workplace fires.

1. Faulty Electrical Appliances/Wiring – The number one cause of workplace fires involves loose wires, overloaded plugs, daisy-chained extension cords, and outdated equipment. Employers are legally accountable to maintain electrical equipment to ensure that they stay in working order and are fit to use.

2. Flammable and Combustible Materials – Improperly stored materials, lack of proper training about mixing chemicals and sub-par disposal procedures are usually responsible for these fires. Appropriate storage, correct disposal and in-depth processes for handling these materials and/or substances should be put in place.

3. Human Error – Failure to pay attention to surroundings, inadequate training on machine and/or chemical use, and poorly designed work spaces account for a large portion of the human error fires. Yes, accidents happen. It’s not hard to knock liquid onto electrical equipment, burn food in the kitchen or spill flammable or combustible liquids. But training, better design and more attention to the risks can prevent many “human error” fires.

4. General Negligence– When proper procedures aren’t followed, or an employee knowingly acts in a way he or she knows is hazardous, they are being negligent. Workplace safety training may prevent the likelihood of negligence, which in turn would decrease the likelihood of fires.

5. Arson– Probably the hardest to prevent except with steadfast security measures, arson is a relatively frequent occurrence of workplace fires. Fires can spread quickly from unit to unit if proper fire control features – such as sprinklers and fire-proof shutters – aren’t installed.

The value of fire safety training

Employers should also conduct regular fire drills to highlight alarm recognition, designated meeting location and roll calls. This lets everyone see if and where changes need to be made before an emergency arises.

And last but not least, one major element of workplace safety training includes learning basic first aid skills. In case of an evacuation or fire-related injury, employees should be trained to care for the wounded until medical personnel arrive on the scene.

Some basic workplace safety tips

Although it’s no substitute for a true fire safety training program, here are a few tips from OSHA’sfire safety fact sheet to get you started on creating your own preparedness and emergency response plan.

What should employers/employees do when they see a fire?

If the fire is small and controllable and you or your employees are familiar with fire extinguisher training, it’s OK to attempt to extinguish the fire. If the fire begins to get out of control, call 911 – or instruct a coworker to do so – and evacuate.

If faced with a large fire, evacuate immediately. Follow established evacuation procedures and assist fellow employees along the way. Remember to close all doors behind you when evacuating to limit the spread of fire and smoke throughout the building. And never, ever use an elevator.

What does OSHA require for emergency fire exits?

Every workplace must have enough exits to enable everyone to get out of the building quickly. Don’t block or lock fire doors when employees are inside. Exit routes must be free of obstructions and marked with exit signs, and evacuation routes should be visible to employees on every floor.

Are portable fire extinguishers mandatory?

In short, no. But that doesn’t mean they’re not suggested. If you do provide employees with fire extinguisher access, a fire extinguisher training course or class is suggested in order to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use.

For example, an extinguisher designed to put out grease fires won’t always work against fires from other causes. For the safest and most effective results, hands-on training is necessary. And if you have to use a fire extinguisher:

P: Pull the pin

A: Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire

S: Squeeze the handle

S: Sweep the nozzle back and forth until the fire has been extinguished

And remember; keep fire extinguishers up-to-date on inspections.

What about fixed extinguishing systems?

Fixed extinguishing systems are among the most reliable fire-fighting tools. They detect fires, sound an alarm and send water to the fire and heat.

Inspect this equipment – and all workplace safety equipment – on a regular basis. Items that don’t meet standards should be replaced immediately.

Do all employers need a fire prevention plan?

OSHA standards require fire prevention plans to include ways to minimize the frequency of evacuations. Additionally, fire prevention plans must:

  • Include housekeeping procedures for storage and cleanup of flammable materials and flammable waste.
  • Address handling and packaging of flammable waste.
  • Inform workers of the potential fire hazards of their jobs and plan procedures.
  • Require plan review with all new employees and with all employees whenever the plan is changed.

And an Emergency Action Plan?

Not every employer is required to have an emergency action plan. But those who are must develop plans that:

  • Describe the routes for workers to use and procedures to follow, including disabled employees.
  • Address evacuation of employees who stay behind to shut down critical plant equipment.
  • Include preferred means of alerting employees to a fire emergency.
  • Ensure emergency training