Fires are something that we hope we never have to deal with but are something that happens every day across the country.
It doesn’t matter what expensive equipment may be at risk, what matters is the lives of the employees that are on the line.
It is important that you fully understand the importance of carrying out regular fire drills at work. By doing so, you can ensure that your company can plan for, and prepare your employees for, a potential fire and how to exit the building safely.
Why Fire Safety Matters
- If you don’t act responsibly, you are risking lives.
- Around 60% of private businesses never recover from a fire.
- You can be fined and may even face time in prison if you don’t meet your legal obligations.
If you were to ask a school-age child about fire drills, they will probably say that they have had one within the last few months. Schools repeat fire drills often so that routine becomes habit and kids know what to do without really thinking about it. They prepare them so that if it ever happens for real, the children are prepared enough to deal with it in a proper manner.
This is where the seven P’s comes to mind:
Proper prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.
The fact is, your employees never expect their little office to go up in flames yet a big portion of them probably don’t even know where the fire exits are located in your buildings.
If they do know where the closest exit is, do they know what they should do if that exit is blocked or not possible to use? Fire drills will reveal all these issues and more.
When it comes to how often you should do a fire drill at work, it will vary from business to business but you should have at the very least, two fire drills per year.
Have an Evacuation Plan
You can’t just expect your employees to know exactly how they are to act during a fire, you must have a detailed evacuation plan in place.
When creating your plan, you will want to consider various scenarios: where might a fire start? Are there areas of the building more likely to start fires, like kitchen appliances or chemicals in the warehouse? Do wildfires threaten your business during the summer?
Consider the following when creating your plan:
- Establish roles and responsibilities for the fire evacuation team, including that of fire warden
- Create a communication plan
- Plan and map routes
- Know your tools such as fire detectors, fire alarms and fire extinguishers
If you need further help in creating an evacuation plan for your particular company, you can contact me directly at [email protected]
How to Conduct a Fire Drill at Work
The first thing that you need to do is ensure that the entire fire team (from the warden on down) is trained, informed, and ready to make the drill a success. If they don’t take the drill seriously then how can you expect your employees to take it seriously?
Communicate Your Plan
Communication is what will make or break your fire drill success. Put up announcements in every place that employees will see them to alert them of the first fire drill. This includes walls, the Internet, newsletter, etc.
Schedule the fire drill on the company Outlook or Google calendar. Include the fire team and their roles, evacuation maps, and expectations.
A fire drill is pointless if you don’t have any goals and standards set. By having goals and standards you will be able to see what improvements have been made between drills and where there is still area for improvement.
You have plenty of work to do if your employees are not heading out during a drill until they have finished their call or been to the restroom. Some metrics to measure:
- How long it took to get everyone evacuated.
- Time to report completion of the drill.
- Successful shutdown of equipment (where appropriate)
Rehearse the Drill
When rehearsing your fire drills, you should do so with increasing complexity. For example, your fire team leaders could first rehearse “on paper” where they describe the plan to the fire warden. The second time around, the team should describe their actions during a fire drill and analyze any perceived weaknesses or confusion. After the fire team leaders understand their roles, they should physically walk through the fire drill. Finally, you should conduct a full rehearsal with as many of your employees as possible.
Have Neutral Observers
These are the people that can alert you to employees that definitely need chatting to about how to deal with a fire.
Choose around 2-3 people who are not on the fire evacuation team to act as neutral observers. Their role is to look for the following:
- Any groups of employees that are moving slowly or talking with each other
- Employees that are on their cell phones or using other mobile devices
- Unhelpful behavior such as grabbing coats, purses, and bags
- Difficulties for people with disabilities such as hard-to-open doors or slippery stairs
- Employees who choose a different exit rather than the one closest to their work station
Following the fire drill, you should have a meeting with the observers to find out exactly what happened during the drill. Gather the fire team together to go over what happened and what can be improved for next time. When meeting, try to gather as much information as possible to help the next time you have a drill. This includes:
- Did employees close the doors upon exiting rooms? (they should)
- Were employees calm and confident? (they should be)
- Did everyone meet at their assigned meeting spot? (they should)
- Was the fire alarm reset and the alarm company notified of the drill? (if applicable) (they should be)
- Did all employees get the alert from your emergency notification system? (they should have)
- Did the building facilities (doors, alarms, automated voice commands) work correctly? (they should have)
Further Fire Drill Considerations
With each drill, try to work with different scenarios such as the hallway being on fire and certain exits being blocked.
Don’t always do the drills at the same day and time of the month. Conduct drills at random times to simulate a real-world scenario.
If your company deals with highly flammable chemicals, your fire drills should be conducted on a more regular basis such as every three months. For most everyone else, twice per year is adequate.
If a key fire team leader leaves the company, make sure to replace them immediately and then do a leaders-only fire drill walkthrough.
Remember, fire drills are no joke!