“The Fire Marshal came to work today” is a phrase someone in town is going to say later today. She might go home and tell her husband about it. As if it were some unusual event the fire marshal came. But it’s not uncommon. Inspections by the fire marshal are increasing, as are OSHA audits.
For most businesses, the fire department is looking for a few easy things:
- Are your extinguishers inspected and charged?
- Are exits lit, labeled, and accessible?
- Are alarms, panels, and sprinklers inspected and up to par?
Some of these items may even be part of a self-inspection form you just mail back with a $25 check.
For larger industrial and commercial enterprises, however, this is only where the inspections begin. VPC has a long history of fire inspections and a team of current and former firefighters on staff.
Here are just three things we routinely look for as part of VPC Safety Check — a useful way to know about issues long before they become reportable incidents, warrant fines, or worse.
Fire doors, windows, locks, and wall inspection
Your doors and walls take a lot of repeated abuse. Over time the use of carting freight into and out of doors can damage or dent the seals. This makes them less effective in preventing the spread of fire. Or windows opened by staff that might not close or open quite right. A seemingly trivial item that never gets noticed or reported can become dangerous in a fire.
We make sure the doors are constructed correctly, shut as they should, and form good seals around the frames. In addition to doors, windows and walls are inspected for fire escape points. We check building material and ensure that no door, window, or other obstruction can swing “open” and potentially block the exit path.
Fire training & drills
Fire safety starts in schools, and we learn the routine of fire drills quickly. Large businesses with as many employees as an elementary school are no different. Exposing people to the sights and sounds of fire alarms is a critical piece of fire protection. Do people know the difference between the sound of a fire alarm and a security alarm?
If you think for a minute any of your colleagues might stop and think, “What’s that?” you need to practice drills.
Fire marshals will also ask to see written documentation of fire prevention plans, emergency plans, and building blueprints. These plans should include:
- Are fire procedures appropriate and properly documented?
- Is there a plan for who calls 911 and a backup for that person?
- Is there a plan to provide relevant information to dispatchers and rescue personnel?
- Is there a plan available off-site that is accessible that can relay hazards to firefighters? For example, if you’re temporarily storing flammable chemicals or material, would you be able to tell dispatchers where that material is in the building?
- Are there plans for identifying and accounting for staff and guests after an evacuation?
- Does your team know safe fire assembly points?
- Do your neighbors around your building have plans to help and know about an emergency? Many businesses operate with mutual assistance agreements, allowing staff to congregate in a nearby space out of the weather or harm’s way. Do your employees know that?
- Do you have trained staff to assist with evacuations, fire extinguishers, and medical training like CPR?
Fire code and material regulations
OSHA and the fire marshal will check to make sure the materials used in your facility are up to safety and fire code. For example, a team that needed ramps for a few days or scaffolding to access high-level shelving must follow safe handling and construction practices. This includes the material of the scaffolding, safety harnesses, and how people enter and exit the structure. Safety inspections are keen to know the use of the buildings and the construction within.
Avoiding or ignoring these items can suggest careless behavior. A fire marshall or state OSHA inspector who feels like an employer or safety management team isn’t taking regulations seriously introduces additional risk. Having outside and independent audits reduces those risks, improves outcomes, and saves money. Otherwise, you risk fines and continued inspections with more depth. And risk the lives of colleagues and continuity of operations.
A new common occurrence is food service and light industrial facilities switching production to hand sanitizer or other cleaners. While needed and critical for our nation, they pose significant new safety issues. The alcohol and components of hand sanitizer in their raw form are extremely combustible. Investigators are increasing their audits precisely because many businesses are switching product inventory or other materials held on-site without the experience and education of how to handle them.