A safety professional recently wrote to the experts at Safety.BLR.com® looking for guidance on how many fire wardens (or marshals) are necessary based on building occupancy or size. A warden must make note of whether people in their part of a building evacuate—read on to see what the experts had to say.
The federal OHSA regulations do not specify the number of fire wardens needed at a facility. A number of OSHA guidance documents, however, state “Generally, one warden for every 20 employees should be adequate, and the appropriate number of wardens should be available at all times during working hours.”
For requirements in your state, local fire codes may state the number of fire wardens needed to safely evacuate occupants. The number is sometimes based on the size of the building or the number of occupants. You should obtain and review a copy of your municipal or local fire code for more information.
Without a directive from the local fire code, the number of fire wardens your workplace should have depends on the size and nature (i.e. level of risk) in your business. A review of fire plans from various institutions also indicates that a fire warden for every 20 employees is a general rule of thumb. Buildings with multiple floors tend to have a fire warden for each floor. Other guidance documents indicate that to determine the number of fire wardens needed, several risk factors should be considered:
- The type of workplace: what is the quantity of combustibles and flammables present and are there sources of ignition present?
- The size and complexity of the building’s layout: larger rooms and more complex layouts are harder to search and evacuate.
- The building materials used: construction materials used in modern buildings may be more combustible than brick or stone buildings.
- The types of occupants in the building: occupants at greater risk include the elderly, children, people with disabilities, and members of the public.
- The number of shifts at the facility: there should always be a fire warden or wardens present during working hours.
In sum, you need to have enough employees trained as fire wardens to successfully and quickly evacuate the occupants from your particular building. One authority noted that the number of fire wardens should be based on a fire warden being able to search his or her designated areas within 2-3 minutes.