Fire Safety Should be a Priority In and outside of the Workplace

Fire Safety Should be a Priority In and outside of the Workplace

Safety is a system, and we all play a role.

In this publication, we speak often about the kinds of hazards that can impact a worker’s safety and health at work and what that can mean for their daily life. Fire safety, however, is something that an individual must be on high alert for all of the time, not just when they are in a workplace setting.  

If there is ever a chance that a safety professional can provide resources to ensure an employees’ safety, they should take it. Sometimes that means addressing how to stay safe on and off the job. 

Following some significant fires at residential facilities in Pennsylvania and New York earlier this year, I found it advantageous to sat down with the National Fire Protection Association’s President Jim Pauley to discuss the incidents and what safety professionals can learn from them. Pauley was very candid when asked about the fires in the North East. 

“Whenever there is a loss of life or property, it is significant in the eyes of NFPA,” Pauley said. “On the heels of the Philadelphia and Bronx, New York fires, we saw yet another example of fire’s impact when three firefighters perished while fighting a fire in an abandoned rowhouse in Baltimore—representing the highest number of responders killed in one fire since 2016.” 

Despite the fact that each fire is a significant event to Pauley and the NFPA, it has been made clear, by the response of the public, that these headlines are just a common occurrence and hold little significance. It seems no one is shocked anymore when they see the damage, destruction and loss of life. 

“The greatest challenge that NFPA, other organizations, and the more than 27,000 fire departments in the U.S. have is overcoming the complacency that exists about fire among average citizens,” Pauley said. “In fact, the American Red Cross reported that private citizens think they are more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a home fire. Given this level of apathy and lack of knowledge, it is difficult to get the average person to accept that fire is a real threat and preventable, let alone to inform them about what to do in case of a fire.” 

Therein lies one of the biggest issues when it comes to education and training of fire safety, right? Complacency. If the average citizen believes they are more likely struck by lightning than be involved in a fire, then the chances of them learning and becoming vigilant about fire safety is pretty low. 

“The over-confidence towards fire is not only evident in residential settings, it pervades occupancies of all types and presents serious risks and concerns,” Pauley said. “Individuals are responsible for their own safety, no matter where they are.” 

Pauley is right. Individuals are responsible for their own safety but there are some things that employers and safety professionals can do to remind them that hazards, including fires, are something they should be aware of daily. According to Pauley, the key is communication. 

“It is important for NFPA and others who work in the safety realm to meet people where they are,” Pauley said. “NFPA has been doing just that for 125 years. Our legacy and our future centers around us helping others address emerging hazards and persistent challenges. We cannot and do not do this work alone. Safety is a system, and we all play a role.” 

Pauley made it abundantly clear that two of the most fatal fires in the last 40 years and the loss of three fire fighters should be a wake-up call for all, especially those who care for their employees’ well-being.  

“If staff members are harmed by fire, they don’t come to work and that has all kinds of implications for employers and colleagues,” Pauley said. “It’s time to change people’s perceptions of risk and emphasize proactive strategies for fire prevention.” 

There are a few basic ways that businesses can help encourage employees to practice fire safety, according to Pauley. They include: 

  • Understand and follow the fire safety protocols put in place by building authorities responsible for rental, condo, high-rise, and vacation settings 
  • Properly install, test, and maintain all smoke alarms in their home or hold landlords accountable for these actions 
  • Develop and practice home escape plans that include closing doors to rooms, hallways, and stairwells when exiting to slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire and to delegate a safe meeting spot outside 
  • Use heating equipment safely 
  • Look for and advocate for the increased use of sprinklers in all buildings and homes 

These steps for residential fire safety are straightforward, but safety professionals are also tasked with keeping employees safe in the workplace. That often includes a flurry of standards, guidelines and policies. NFPA has thought of this, too, and has created a special resource for workplaces to streamline their efforts. 

“Most facility managers juggle a lot of balls,” Pauley said. “For that reason and many more, we introduced NFPA LiNK in 2020 so that those charged with safety could have access to the relevant codes and resources that are needed to navigate a wide range of safety scenarios.” 

NFPA LiNK is a one-stop digital solution that allows safety professionals and facility managers to find solutions quickly. NFPA LiNK is also collaborative, allowing professionals to save, share and bookmark certain items about fire suppression systems, signaling systems, means of egress and inspection, testing and maintenance.  

“Some companies simply understand that safety should always be at the forefront, and they take proactive steps to educate their staff members on a regular basis,” Pauley said. “Workplace leaders are encouraged to visit the public education, wildfire, and research areas of the NFPA website for related links or to download fire safety resources.” 

Everything the NFPA does, according to Pauley, is rooted in safety—a cause all safety professionals can get behind. Increasing awareness, education and training on fire safety can only improve the safety culture of your company, as you look to bond employees, supervisors and executives together with one goal in mind: safety. 

“Reading up on the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem is a great place for businesses intent on safety to start their journey,” Pauley said. “OH&S readers and those committed to occupational safety and the wellbeing of their employees are encouraged to use the Ecosystem to facilitate discussions in the workplace and to take steps in 2022 to ensure that employees are safer from harm.” 

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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