Safety never takes a holiday. To that end, safety managers should take it upon themselves to elevate their knowledge and skills to make their facilities safer in the year ahead. But sometimes emergencies strike. In this case, reporting a fire isn’t just a courtesy — it can be a life-or-death situation. Regardless of the work setting, it’s critical that employees know how to report emergencies.
But before I go into the nuances of how to do that, I want to lead with the NFPA recommended RACE acronym for all fire situations:
- R – REMOVE yourself and all other victims
- A – ALERT 9-1-1
- C – CONFINE the fire
- E – EXTINGUISH
If you just do the first three steps, you have saved everybody’s life that is at risk, you have help on the way and you have made it safer for those who are responding. The next step is to extinguish the fire, if you have the right extinguisher and an exit route.
Now, how do you ALERT all of your employees? Some workplaces use internal telephone numbers, intercom, or public address systems as the means to get the message out internally. Radios are also extremely valuable. Employees should know that emergency traffic has priority over all other messages and that any emergency message received should be repeated to assure it was received correctly. In some cases, personnel are instructed to activate manual pull stations or other alarm systems.
Regardless of the system, it’s imperative that emergency situations be immediately reported. Fires and other disasters can escalate in a matter of seconds — any delay getting emergency responders to the scene can result in additional loss of life and property. Your personnel should be empowered to act quickly and with discretion. Alarms must be distinctive and send a message to employees that they must evacuate the work area or perform other actions identified in your Emergency Action Plan (EAP).
Finally, drills are important in helping cement good behaviors in the workplace. OSHA requires an evacuation drill. However, that’s the minimum and may not be effective for a real fire response. Instead, you should create a realistic scenario where people have to respond to real-world situations. Observe how they react in different departments because workers are tasked with different responsibilities. Remember, every emergency scenario requires a different response.
These protocols should be outlined in your EAP. Don’t forget that the plan should be a living and breathing document. To that end, it’s critical and necessary to review and update your plans after any significant change(s) in operations, building use and/or expansion. The same can be said of personnel changes. Such training needs to be integrated into new hire orientation as well as regular all-staff professional development.
Review your fire management plans on an annual basis based on the guidance provided here as well as that of a consultant who has experience with fire risks. Know that I’m here as a ready resource for your organization.