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Putting a Fire Procedure in Place for Your Office Employees

Posted on: May 26, 2015

A fire in the office can put the lives of your employees at risk and destroy your business, but if a well-developed emergency action plan has been effectively communicated to employees, loss of life and property can be prevented.

OSHA standards dictate that if fire extinguishers are required in your workplace and if any person would be abandoning the premises in the event of a fire, then the business is required to have an emergency action plan, or EAP, in place. An EAP is a group of strategies which outlines instructions for employees in the event of a workplace fire or other emergency. To determine if OSHA requires your business to have an emergency action plan, click here.

Creating an Emergency Action Plan for Office Fires

Your EAP should include OSHA’s minimum requirements:

  • Means of reporting fires and other emergencies. This includes the means to report the emergency to other building occupants and to the fire department and emergency medical responders. The most common method of reporting a fire to other building occupants is to activate a manual fire alarm pull station.
  • Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments. Instructions should describe who has the authority to dictate protocol during a workplace fire, under what circumstances are evacuations necessary, how to evacuate and which escape routes to take from each location within the facility.
  • Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to oversee critical plant operations before evacuating. Most offices typically require total and immediate evacuation in a fire emergency, but there may be circumstances in which a trained employee must remain behind briefly to operate a fire extinguisher or shut down gas or electrical systems which could cause further destruction. An EAP should include detailed instructions for these circumstances as well as provisions for routine fire extinguisher training for appointed employees.
  • Procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation has been completed A safe meetup location and a procedure for a head count should be designated in advance and included in the EAP. You may also include instructions for appointed employees to conduct a sweep of the premises. After evacuees have assembled in the safe area, a head count should be conducted immediately, so the names of those who have not assembled outside can be identified and passed on to the first responders.
  • Rescue and medical duties for those employees who must perform them Most offices will rely on public services for these services. If an emergency care facility is not located near the workplace, employees should be trained in first aid and CPR, and their names and medical and rescue responsibilities should be listed in the plan.
  • Names or job titles of people who can be contacted for further information or explanation of the plan Many workplaces designate a safety coordinator or safety committee to promote safe practices in the workplace and continually address safety questions and concerns.

Though not required, OSHA recommends including the following in your plan:

  • A description of the alarm system that is in place to notify employees (including disabled employees) to evacuate or take other actions. For large operations, an emergency mass notification system is the most effective tool for communicating up-to-the-minute instructions as the conditions of the emergency change.
  • The site of an alternative communications center to be used in the event of a fire or explosion We recommend that you designate an alternative communication system that is easy to operate and able to work without power.
  • A secure on- or off-site location to store originals or duplicate copies of accounting records, legal documents, employee emergency contact lists and other records These records should be updated regularly to reflect the most current information.

Customizing the EAP to your Office

It is critical to consider the unique characteristics of your business operation and office layout when creating your office’s EAP. One consideration unique to offices is cubicle partitions. Cubicle walls can reduce visibility and block the means of egress during a fire evacuation, so you should avoid labyrinthine or crowded cubicle layouts. Also, because cubicles affect paths of egress, each time there is a change in cubicle layout, the EAP should be updated to reflect the change.

If your office is inside of a plant that handles chemical or gas, a high rise building, or a shared building you will need additional provisions. We recommend that Memphis-area business owners and building managers contact the Memphis Fire Department to have an inspector approve your emergency action plan.

Communicating an Emergency Action Plan for Office Fires

Employee training is crucial to the success of the EAP in the event of an emergency. According to OSHA’s guidelines, the emergency action plan should be reviewed by employees covered by the plan when the plan is developed and each time changes are made to the plan. An employee must be trained when he or she is hired and when the employee’s responsibilities outlined in the plan change.

The experts at State Systems, Inc. recommend having an unannounced fire drill at least once a year to determine the employees’ level of comprehension of the EAP. Additional training should continue until all employees have mastered the fire evacuation procedure. If fire extinguishers are required in your workplace and intended for employee use, then fire extinguisher training will be a crucial component of EAP education. Annual fire extinguisher training should be mandatory for employees appointed to fight small fires. These employees should be thoroughly trained in risk assessment and know where the fire extinguishers are located and how to operate them. We recommend mandatory CPR and first aid training for all or designated employees once every two years.

To learn more about office emergency protocol, visit the OSHA website. If your Memphis area company needs fire protection, we can help by providing a comprehensive fire protection plan including fire extinguisher installation, maintenance and training, first aid and CPR training, fire alarm systems, fire sprinkler systems, fire suppression systems and more that will keep your employees safe and keep your company compliant. For more information, or to talk with our team about how we can help you plan and prepare, please call 866-308-5701 or contact us online.

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