A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is legally responsible for ensuring that the workplace is safe. That being said, everyone that works in that same workplace should also share the responsibility. So, even if you’re not in a leadership role, you still need to help your co-workers create a safe and healthy working environment.
Fire safety is one of the most important aspects of occupational safety and health. Since office fires don’t occur too often, it’s easy to think that it’ll never happen to your workplace. However, this attitude can lead to complacency, which can then result in employees not knowing what to do when a real fire starts.
To help you out, we’ve listed four simple office fire safety tips. We’ll look at simple solutions like applying anti-slip tape on stairs and keeping emergency exits clear. We’ll also discuss more complex matters like safety training and electrical inspections.
Keep in mind, this is only a basic guide designed to get you started. If you’re a PCBU or someone in a leadership position, we recommend looking at official Safe Work Australia resources for more information.
1. Keep emergency exits clear
In terms of fire safety, one of the simplest things you can do is to ensure that the emergency exits aren’t obstructed. You should make sure that the exits are always kept clear. Even temporarily blocking the exit could lead to serious consequences in an emergency. The stairways, hallways and doorways that lead to the exit should also be clear of rubbish and personal belongings.
In a case of a fire, having a clear exit path will reduce the risk of someone tripping or slipping during evacuation. To further reduce this risk, you should also consider adding high-visibility anti-slip tape to your stairways. Anti-slip tape provides extra grip and reduces the chances of a misstep.
Additionally, the exit signs should be visible and well-lit. You also need to post an evacuation diagram in the office so that employees and visitors can refer to it and find the nearest exit. Ideally, the evacuation process should be drilled regularly so that the employees will immediately know where to go in case of an emergency.
2. Have fire detection and suppression systems
A smoke alarm will sound off as soon as it senses that there might be a fire. This alarm will allow you to take early action before the fire becomes too dangerous to handle. Depending on the emergency, you need to do either one of two things. In some cases, you might have to suppress the fire via a fire extinguisher. Extinguishers should only be used on fires that are small enough to manage. If, however, the fire is too large and is spreading rapidly, everyone in the office should exit the building as soon as possible.
As PCBU or as a manager, you need to make sure that the smoke alarms around the office are properly installed and regularly checked. You should have enough smoke alarms to cover the entirety of the workplace. Additionally, the alarms need to be regularly tested to ensure that they still have power.
Sprinklers and extinguishers should also be checked on a regular basis. When it comes to the fire extinguisher, you need to make sure that it is unobstructed and easily accessible.
3. Recognise hazards and hire electrical safety inspectors
Once you have your first line of defence set up, it’s time to go on the attack. You and your team should always be looking out for potential fire hazards. Potential hazards can include faulty wiring, damaged electrical components, overloaded power outlets and exposed flammable materials.
If you use a lot of appliances in the office (i.e., heaters and fans), make sure that the only ones plugged in are the ones being used. Also, make sure that there’s proper ventilation around the office to prevent appliances and machines from overheating.
To make sure that your office is as hazard-free as possible, you should aim to get electrical safety inspections regularly. This inspection needs to be done by a licensed electrical inspector. Depending on the state or territory that you’re in, you may be required to have an electrical safety inspection annually. You should refer to your local government’s website to make sure you’re complying with the relevant regulations.
4. Train employees on fire safety
Finally, the employees in the workplace should have proper fire safety and evacuation training.
An important part of safety training is educating the employees on what sorts of fire hazards to look out for. Indeed, it’s vital for an employee to be able to recognise and mitigate potential safety hazards before they become too dangerous. Having knowledgeable workers in the office will significantly reduce the chances of an incident occurring.
Of course, the employees must also receive practical training as well. As mentioned before, a workplace should hold fire safety drills regularly. Workers need to know what to do in the case of an emergency. They need to know what to take with them (if any), which exit they should take, where the evacuation site is and what to do before going back into the office.
To make things easier for everyone, the workplace should assign specific roles and tasks to the employees. One of the more important roles in this regard is the fire warden. The fire warden is responsible for directing everyone to the right exit, assisting those who are less able, taking a register of the names, and informing emergency services of any missing workers. The fire warden is also responsible for leading fire drills and ensuring that everyone is adhering to the evacuation guidelines.
A fire warden can be anyone. It could be the manager or just a knowledgeable employee.
There you have it, four tips to make your office a safer place. Even something as simple as running fire drills every month can end up saving someone’s life in a real emergency. It’s important that we don’t take these fire safety principles lightly. They are not there to annoy you, but rather there to protect you and keep you from getting hurt.