Fire Inspections Can Foster a Workplace Culture of Prevention

From fire extinguisher training to prepared exit strategies to sprinklers, every aspect of workplace fire prevention affects worker and company safety.

As an occupational health and safety professional, it is important to know that fire prevention, in all its many forms, is vital to the success of any organization, company or worksite. From fire extinguisher training to prepared exit strategies to sprinklers, every aspect of workplace fire prevention affects the company, its employees, its community and you.

Fire Codes

A key aspect of fire prevention for buildings are fire codes. In the United States, fire codes are developed primarily by two organizations: The International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Both of these code-making bodies deal with construction, design and maintenance of the property.

NFPA fire codes were originally crafted to regulate the hazardous materials or processes that might affect those occupying a structure (NFPA, 1995). This continues today; however, the NFPA’s National Fire Codes are developed and backed by technical committees staffed by more than 6,000 volunteers, and the codes are adopted and enforced worldwide.

Not only do fire codes help to protect and save the lives of those working in the structure, but they also allow the fire service members to go home safely after a fire incident.

Have you ever wondered why your roads are built the way they are—or why certain structures are built to a different standard? The fire code, along with the many other municipal codes, affects all of these features. If the fire code did not address certain functions, then roads—for example—might have been built more restrictively and access would be limited, potentially jeopardizing the safety of the responders, employees and company property in a fire incident. Thus, the NFPA fire code advances fire and life safety for the private sector, workers and first-responders as well as the general public.

Monitoring Fire Code Compliance

While OSH professionals generally deal with the fire codes relating to construction, other safety professionals, such as fire inspectors, have the responsibility of understanding fire prevention codes and how to educate their clients about them. Both professionals, however, are committed to protecting all of the assets involved for internal and external stakeholders.

In order to reduce the amount of negative interactions, fire inspectors must understand the codes and apply them consistently. Just like OSH professionals, fire inspectors conduct safety audits to check for items that are unsafe such as blocked exits, extension cords, clutter and other minor violations. These violations might sound trivial or easily remedied, but vigilant fire inspectors might see these as the tip of the iceberg. They have to be aware of other possible violations as well such as occupant loads, hazardous materials storage, industrial practices and non-compliance with annual service requirements.

For example, inspectors must be cognizant of hazardous materials storage, regulations on amounts and how that storage can affect the local fire department’s ability to provide services in the event of an emergency. This knowledge is crucial so that firefighters can render aid with efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, information about the history of the property helps the inspector evaluate any pre-planning data that may be available. Again, this can assist first-responders with on-site logistics and planning.

Customer Service and Inspections go Hand-in-Hand

While knowing the fire code is imperative for those conducting inspections, it is equally as important for inspectors to provide thoughtful and thorough feedback to their clients. Thus, a tactful approach is necessary while explaining to an individual that their organization does not meet the minimum requirements under the fire code. This goes hand-in-hand with proactively educating clients about the code and violations. This teachable moment can go a long way in promoting a sound culture of fire prevention within the company. Safety consultants, does this sound familiar?

Customer service is evident when a fire inspector performs a maintenance code compliance check to make sure the company is adhering to the fire code. Customer service is the goal, but the inspector has to be mindful of the facility and the client. From the moment an inspector arrives, he or she is being observed by company officials. Inspectors must be aware of this and their tone, behavior and attitude while trying to explain a situation and solution. Good relations can make it easier for the client to be more receptive to criticisms and helpful suggestions.

By building a positive relationship, inspectors can lower the chances of company officials becoming defensive about the process and reduce miscommunications along the way. Therefore, professionalism is key at this stage of the process and, as many OSH consultants can attest, it can have a profound effect on the next visit.

Codes Benefit Firefighters, Not Just Communities

Fire inspections are important for many reasons, including firefighter safety. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately 111,000 non-residential fires were reported in 2017 (USFA, 2019).

The need for fire prevention and education is critical to the success in reducing firefighter and civilian injuries and deaths, as well as reducing a community’s economic losses (Case, 2014). By lowering the number of commercial building fires, there is less risk to the firefighters and businesses. Safety inspections may not be glamorous, but they are vital to the success of a community and its private sector.

Creating a Culture of Prevention

Positive changes regarding fire prevention and safety might require changing a company’s prevention mindset. This can be arduous if the company has had previous repeated violations and missteps; however, it is possible through professionalism, and attentive and educational customer service.

Just as OSH professionals work every day to instill workplace safety guidelines so every employee can go home to their families, so do fire inspectors. Their efforts to monitor and enforce fire codes help to create a safe working environment that is bolstered by rules and regulations that encourage fire prevention. The value of imposing fire codes cannot be stressed enough, as not only do they protect the company property and workers, but they also provide safety for first-responders who may have to come to the location.

Various building fire codes also offer inspectors a chance to teach all stakeholders in the company how to protect their business, property and, most importantly, the lives of those on site. By providing attentive customer service, the fire inspector can further connect with clients to ensure a teachable moment extends beyond the “moment,” and eventually becomes part of its workplace culture.

For more information on this topic, visit Vision 20/20 at StrategicFire.org. Vision 20/20 offers insights on fire prevention including case studies, guides, tools and more.

REFERENCES

https://www.iccsafe.org/about/who-we-are/

https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Codesand-standards/Standards-development-process/HistoryNFPACodesStandards.ashx?la=en

https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/ statistics/nonres_bldg_fire_estimates.pdf

https://firerescuemagazine.firefighternation.com/2014/11/01/the-economic-impact-offirefighting/#gref

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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