The Top Two Myths About Fire Safety at Work – #1 People Panic

Fire safety should be top of mind at any organization. There’s no such thing as too much preparation so you can respond accordingly in the event of a fire. In my travels, I have come across some critical misinformation out there that can spell trouble. That’s why I wanted to take some time to discuss two myths that can lead to devastating outcomes unless you chase them out of your workplace.

Myth #1: People panic in fires.

Sure, human nature is unpredictable at times. Panic is an enemy of successful outcomes and it does exist.  But it doesn’t have to and you can prevent panic through preparation.

In the event of a fire, research has actually proven that people tend to rise to the occasion. Having a plan and reviewing it regularly with your employees is really the most critical factor. If they’re equipped with the necessary knowledge, their chances of getting out safely increase almost eightfold. Specifically, having regular drills and practicing evacuation procedures can mean the people in your building will be prepared, and you can count on them to act quickly and appropriately under pressure if and when disaster strikes. 

Your team should be encouraged to identify 5 fire emergencies that can happen in their work area. These will be different in the office than they are in a maintenance shop and workers on the ground will have different concerns than equipment operators.

Once they identify a potential fire location, they should consider IF they will get involved and how. What class of fire will it be? Where is the appropriate fire extinguisher? When will they choose to simply evacuate for their safety?

Now, this exercise won’t identify all potential fires, but I guarantee that any other potential incident will be similar in some way to these scenarios.  Although your employee didn’t pre-plan the exact situation, they will already be armed with information that will help them make critical decisions in a life-threatening emergency.

Additionally, you should talk with your employees about the potential for panic in an emergency and remind them how that only makes a bad situation worse.  Everyone should be encouraged, and reminded regularly, to take the following actions when they encounter any significant difficulty:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Think of one or two actions that will have a positive impact on the situation
  • Proceed to those actions at a moderate pace (this allows the brain to continue to analyze the situation and additional actions will come to mind)

When they take these steps, others will notice that things are improving and will begin to react calmly as well.  If one person panics, most others will join right in. Worse yet, there can be a tendency to flee the site (as opposed to the fight in the flight-or-fight binary). 

According to Enrico Quarantelli, a social scientist who studied panic, flight behavior is non-rational rather than irrational. This means that people do not look to their environment to make impulse decisions and thus make illogical decisions. That’s why panic is more like tunnel vision.

Regardless of the size of your workforce, by training them to react calmly to ALL of life’s surprises, they’ll be more prepared to remain composed when emergencies occur.

Look for Part 2 of this article next month.  We will discuss Myth #2: Small fires don’t require any outside support.

Until then, keep calm and don’t panic!

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