Fire Protection Summary

Every year, there are about 7,000 fires that break out in high-rise office buildings, causing deaths, injuries, and millions of dollars in fire damage. Most of these could be eliminated if everyone practiced good fire prevention on the job and planned ahead for a fire emergency.

Although workers can suffer burns from a fire, most injuries and deaths are the result of smoke inhalation, breathing toxic materials, and the presence of carbon monoxide.

The causes of fires in an industrial environment are often the following:

  • • Electrical causes (22%)—lax maintenance in wiring, motors, switches, lamps, and heating elements
  • • Matches and smoking (18%)—near flammable liquids, stored combustibles, etc.
  • • Friction (11%)—hot bearings, misaligned or broken machine parts, choking or jamming materials, poor adjustment of moving parts
  • • Hot surfaces (9%)—exposure of combustibles to furnaces, hot ducts or flues, electric lamps or heating elements, and hot metal
  • • Overheated materials (7%)—abnormal process temperatures, materials in dryers, overheating of flammable liquids
  • • Open flames (6%)—gasoline or other torches, gas or oil burners
  • • Foreign substances (5%)—foreign material in stock
  • • Spontaneous heating (4%)—deposits in ducts and flues, low-grade storage, scrap waste, oily waste and rubbish
  • • Cutting and welding (4%)—highly dangerous in areas where sparks can ignite combustibles
  • • Combustion sparks (4%)—burning rubbish; foundry cupolas, furnaces, and fireboxes
  • • Miscellaneous (10%)—including incendiary cases, fires spreading from adjoining buildings, molten metal or glass, static electricity near flammable liquids, chemical action, and lighting

Spotting fire hazards in the work area is a matter of being familiar with the causes listed previously. Fire inspections should be conducted on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc., basis.

When a fire hazard is spotted, eliminate it immediately, if you are capable of doing so and have the authority to do so. Fill out a fire hazard report form and bring it to the supervisor's attention. If a fire has started, notify the appropriate personnel (company fire brigade, a supervisor, safety director, etc.) to give or sound a general alarm.

General guidance for fires and related emergencies is to immediately follow these procedures if a fire is discovered or you see/smell smoke:

  • 1. Notify the local fire department.
  • 2. Notify physical security or the building security force.
  • 3. Be aware of fire suppression equipment or outlets.
  • 4. Activate the building alarm (fire pull station). If not available or operational, verbally notify people in the workplace.
  • 5. Isolate the area by closing windows and doors, and evacuate the facility, if it can be done so safely.
  • 6. Shut down equipment in the immediate area, if possible.
  • 7. If possible and if the worker has received appropriate training, use a portable fire extinguisher on the fire.
  • 8. Assist oneself to evacuate.
  • 9. Assist another to evacuate.
  • 10. Control a small fire.
  • 11. Do not collect personal or official items; leave the area of the fire immediately, and walk, do not run, to the exit and designated gathering area.
  • 12. Provide the fire/police teams with the details of the problem upon their arrival. Special hazard information is essential for the safety of the emergency responders.
  • 13. Do not reenter the building or facility until directed to do so. Follow any special procedures established for the unit's employees.
  • 14. If the fire alarms are ringing in the building or facility, evacuate the building or facility and stay out until notified to return. Move to the designated meeting location or upwind from the building or facility, staying clear of streets, driveways, sidewalks, and other access ways to the building or facility. If you are a supervisor, try to account for employees, keep them together, and report any missing persons to the emergency personnel at the scene.

One result of the recent trend toward open work environments is that smoke from fires is not contained or isolated as effectively as in less open designs. Open designs allow smoke to spread quickly, and the incorporation of many synthetic and other combustible materials in facility fixtures (such as furniture, rugs, drapes, plastic wastebaskets, and vinyl-covered walls) often makes "smoky" fires. In addition to being smoky, many synthetic materials can emit toxic materials during a fire. For example, cyanide can be emitted from urethane, which is commonly used in upholstery stuffing. Most burning materials can emit carbon monoxide. Inhalation of these toxic materials can severely hamper a worker's chances of getting out of a fire in time. This makes it imperative for workers to recognize the signal to evacuate their work area and know how to exit in an expedient manner.

If an individual is overexposed to smoke or chemical vapors, remove the person to an uncontaminated area and treat for shock. Do not enter the area if a suspected life-threatening condition still exists (such as heavy smoke or toxic gases). If cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certified, follow standard CPR protocols. Get medical attention promptly.

If a person's clothing catches fire, extinguish the burning clothing by using the drop- and-roll technique, wrap the victim in a fire blanket, or douse the victim with cold water (use an emergency shower if it is immediately available). Carefully remove contaminated clothing; however, avoid further damage to the burned area. Cover the injured person to prevent shock. Get medical attention promptly.

Poor housekeeping contributes to an increased frequency of loss and greater loss potential. The added distribution of fuel does the following:

  • • Increases the probability of fire and explosion
  • • Causes a greater continuity of combustibles, making it easier for fire to spread
  • • Increases combustible loading by providing more fuel to feed a fire
  • • Creates the potential for dust explosions when dust accumulates
  • • Increases the probability of spontaneous ignition

In case of a fire, workers should be told to do the following:

  • • If a fire does break out, sound the alarm and call the fire department. Large fires start as small fires.
  • • Learn the sound of the building's fire alarm. Encourage management to schedule regular fire drills so that everyone will know how the alarm sounds and how to escape.
  • • Evacuation plans for the building should be posted where everyone can see them. These should be discussed with new employees during orientation.
  • • Learn the evacuation plan and participate in fire drills.
  • • Know the location of the two exits closest to their work area. Count the number of doors between their office and each of those exists—in case they must escape through a darkened, smoke-filled corridor where they can't see very well.
  • • Close the door to the room containing the fire and close all other doors that are passed through during their escape, assuming that you are the last person out. Closing the doors helps control the spread of fire.
  • • If it becomes necessary to use an escape route where there is smoke, crawl low under the smoke. Stay close to the floor where visibility is better, the air is less toxic, and it is cooler.
  • • Before opening a closed door, feel it with the back of the hand. If it is hot, don't open it. Use an alternate escape route. If it feels normal, open it carefully.
  • • Be ready to slam a door shut if heat or smoke starts to rush in. Once they are outside the building, move well away from the building to a designated meeting area where all members of the floor can be accounted for. If anyone is missing, notify the fire department. Do not reenter the building.
  • • If it's not possible to escape from the floor you are on, don't panic. Stay calm. Try to go to a room with an outside window and stay there. Try to keep smoke out and be sure doors are closed. Stuff the cracks around the door and vents using clothing, towels, paper, or whatever is available. If water is available, dampen a cloth and breathe through it to filter out smoke and gases. If there is a working telephone or cell phone, call the fire department and tell them exactly where you are. This information will be relayed immediately to the firefighters on the scene. Stay where you are and wave something to attract their attention.
  • • Each person with a disability should be assigned a coworker (and an alternate) to render assistance in case of an emergency. Participating in drills is especially important for those with disabilities.
  • • Never use an elevator during a fire emergency. Most modern elevators' select buttons are heat activated, so they might go to a floor where there is a fire and stop with doors wide open, exposing passengers to deadly heat and fumes.
  • • Be sure that stairwell doors are never locked.

A fire emergency can be devastating to a business. Even though most businesses are insured against fire losses, the loss of personnel, physical property, production, and customers can lead to the complete shutdown of the business. The end result is the impact on the community and vendors, subcontractor loss of business, and the fire's economic effect on these entities.

Since fire can transpire in the blink of an eye, steps must be taken to address this always- present risk. This requires a concerted effort to preplan for a fire event.

Further Readings

Reese, C.D. Office Building Safety and Health. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2004.

Reese, C.D. Handbook of Safety and Health for the Service Industry, Volume 1: Industrial Safety and Health for Goods and Material Services. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009.

Reese, C.D. Handbook of Safety and Health for the Service Industry, Volume 3: Industrial Safety and Health for Administrative Services. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009.

Reese, C.D. Handbook of Safety and Health for the Service Industry, Volume 4: Industrial Safety and Health for People-Oriented Services. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009.

Reese, C.D. Accident/Incident Prevention Techniques (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2012.

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