An estimated 120,000 commercial property fires occurred in 2019 resulting in $4.3 billion in property damage, 1,200 injuries and 110 deaths. As a professional fire safety inspector, I have inspected hundreds of commercial properties and seen the need for water and fire restoration. During my inspections I see overlooked areas when it comes to fire safety that need immediate attention. Identifying and correcting these seven issues will help ensure the safety of your tenants and property in case of a fire emergency.
A company should have their lights, alarms, extinguishers and sprinklers inspected every year. Many companies neglect their annual services. Neglecting your fire safety system can cause the equipment to erode over time resulting in faulty equipment.
After a professional inspection you will receive a report from the inspection company. The report will include the date of the inspection, name and address of the property, type of occupancy, any issues that need addressed, contact details of the building owner and those interviewed during the inspection. You are required to keep this on file for at least 2 years, but I recommend 5 years.
Owners not being on-site is one of the leading causes of missed inspections. Schedule inspections for a time when you know you’re available and set a reminder for yourself.
Maintaining the exit lights in the building is another overlooked area. During a fire, conditions can be chaotic and confusing. Smoke can obscure vision and make it difficult to navigate your familiar office space. Illuminated exit signs make it more likely people will be able to see where to go and get out of the building.
Exit signs are designed to switch to emergency power when they no longer receive electricity. These lighted signs need regular testing by the tenant to ensure proper operation. Often this involves pressing the test button on the side of the sign to ensure they correctly switch to the standby power source.
Testing Alarms and Conducting Fire Drills
Fire alarms are often considered the most critical element of a commercial building’s safety system. When an alarm sounds the occupants immediately knows a potential danger exists and evacuation is necessary.
You should have your tenants conduct regular tests of the fire alarm system. Most systems can be tested through the control panel. Set your control panel to test mode, meaning it will not call the fire department and press the button again to set off the alarms. For other systems you may need to activate the alarms manually by opening an alarm lever box with a master key and pressing the button within. Record your results of the test keeping a list of every activating device and how it reacted to the test. If one or more alarms are faulty this information will help a technician locate the problem quickly. When testing the alarms it is recommended you also conduct a fire drill.
Business owners should conduct regular fire drills as part of the company’s emergency action plan. These drills allow employees to practice evacuating the building and shows areas in the plan that might need improving. Fire drills are not mandated by State or Federal Law but I would still recommend conducting them regularly to ensure public safety at your company.
Communicating Your Emergency Action Plan
Business owners occupying commercial building space should provide written emergency action plans for employees to ensure everyone knows the exit routes and what fire emergency procedures are in place.
Emergency action plans should cover designated actions employers and employees need to take to ensure their safety during fire emergencies, according to OSHA. These actions include which equipment needs shutdown and when fire suppression efforts should take place. The business owner needs to ensure all employees understand fire suppression procedures and escape routes to be followed by each location in the office.
Management is required to review the emergency action plan with each employee at certain times including when the plan is developed, when an employee’s responsibilities change, and when the plan changes.
Decluttering of Walls and Doorways
Commercial building owners need to make sure their tenants are aware of the amount of wall coverings in the hallways and offices. Large bulletin boards covered in paper, copy rooms with scattered documents and cluttered offices are high risk fire areas. A small flame can potentially turn these areas into an uncontrollable fire.
Often in my inspections I see emergency exit doors blocked by debris. I recommend tenants regularly inspect doorways for clear egress. Move any boxes, equipment or trash from doorways which can slow down the process of getting to safety quickly.
Multipurpose extinguishers rated class A, B and C, capable of putting out small fires involving wood, paper, oils and gases are required in commercial buildings. Extinguishers need to be placed 75 feet apart throughout the building according to OSHA guidelines.
Make sure your fire extinguishers are at the proper weight or gauge limit. This information can be found on the label located on the side of the extinguisher. Replace or recharge your extinguishers if they are not at the required levels and after every use.
Some property management companies make the tenant responsible for fire extinguishers and some will supply them. If the building owner requires the tenant to supply the fire extinguishers, they must hold the tenant responsible.
Following these fire safety reminders will ensure your tenants and property will be safer in case of a fire emergency. If you ever have questions about your fire safety system and plan contact the local fire marshal.
Chad Connor is the President of Affordable Fire & Safety located in Gilbert, Arizona. Affordable Fire & Safety conducts thousands of fire inspections each year.