Special Topics in Safety Management

Fire Safety: 7 Hazards, 10 Controls

Experts say about 85% of workplace fires result from human error and 15% from equipment problems. That means fires are a largely preventable hazard. Keep fire safety top of mind at your company to reduce risk.

The list of workplace fire hazards doesn’t include many surprises. Still it’s a good idea to review them with supervisors and employees just to make sure everybody is aware and remains alert.

These 7 fire hazards are among the most common:

  1. Scrap and trash: When waste materials build up, the danger of fire increases. Once an ignition source is present, scrap and trash provide the fuel a fire needs to grow.
  2. Dust: Excess dust or powder in the air from wood, plastic, metal, and other operations can cause an explosion if ignited. The tragic Imperial Sugar fire of 2008 resulted, in part, from release of sugar from improperly maintained dust-collection equipment.
  3. Flammable liquids: Improper handling, storage, or disposal of flammables used in production processes, as fuel sources, or for cleaning are a leading cause of workplace fires.
  4. Combustible materials: Culprits include paper, cardboard, cloth, and wood, or products made from these materials. Rags and other oil-soaked materials can spontaneously combust if left lying around.
  5. Electrical sources: Overloaded electrical circuits and outlets, damaged wiring, defective switches, and damaged plugs are potential causes of electrical fires. Electric coffeemakers, toaster ovens, space heaters, and other appliances are also potential fire hazards.
  6. Machinery: Fires can be caused by inadequately lubricated or cleaned equipment as well as mechanical defects.
  7. Smoking: When employees try to defeat no-smoking policies, the results can be deadly. An incompletely extinguished cigarette carelessly tossed into a wastebasket or onto a warehouse floor can have disastrous consequences.

10 Fire Safety Controls

Now, the preventive controls. Again, no surprises, but good to emphasize and reemphasize in safety meetings and training sessions:

  • Inspect all areas for fire hazards on a regular basis, paying particular attention to places where fires are most likely to occur.
  • Educate employees about the risks, and update them when new equipment or processes introduce new hazards.
  • Provide the right fire extinguishers for the hazards in your work areas. Check regularly to make sure the devices are charged.
  • Store materials safely, and keep storage areas well ventilated and free of ignition sources.
  • Dispose of waste promptly and properly.
  • Require good housekeeping practices to keep work areas clean and free of fire hazards.
  • Make sure ventilation systems operate effectively to remove flammable vapors, combustible dusts, and powders from the air.
  • Service machines regularly. Establish a regular maintenance schedule, and make sure it is followed.
  • Regularly check electrical circuits, outlets, wires, and plugs. If small appliances are in use, make sure they are turned off at the end of the shift or workday.
  • Enforce fire safety and prevention rules. And that includes your no-smoking policy. Develop discipline procedures for those who break the rules.

For more on fire safety, including annual requirements, read on here.