Continuing where we left last week, here is the remainder of our one-on-one sit down with New President of the NFPA Jim Pauley.
Q: Although the numbers are improving, each year, fires kill and injure hundreds of employees and cost U.S. businesses
billions of dollars in property damage.
What actions are needed to dramatically reduce the incidence of workplace fires in this country?
A: While fires in the workplace are trending in the right direction, it was just over one year ago that the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion and fire devastated a local community.
Fires in the office or industrial or other commercial buildings we work in aren’t always of the same magnitude as West, Texas, but they nonetheless cause death and injury, as well as direct and indirect economic loss.
Addressing fire safety issues at work needs to start at the top — a culture of safety as part of the organization’s commitment to worker safety.
It is easy to say, “That’s an OSHA thing or the inspector will see that” — but those people are not there 24 hours a day. They may only appear once a year or even less frequently.
Empower employees to speak up and to look for basic fire hazards — exit doors propped open; clutter or storage in exit stairs; extension cords or power taps that are overloaded or showing signs of wear and tear.
Develop and set your own in-house guides to identify these hazards. Make the people that are there every day the inspectors.
Q: Are there specific areas where most
companies fall short in their fire prevention efforts?
A: There is a tongue-in-cheek saying that notes there are three main causes of fire: men, women and children.
To illustrate this point, nearly 30 percent of fires in office buildings are caused by cooking equipment. The human element cannot be overlooked.
Written policies around use of coffee makers, hot plates and microwave ovens can help attack that one problem area.
Q: The regulations pertaining to fire safety and property protection are numerous and quite complex. Do most small to midsized organizations need outside help — say, in the form of consultants — to facilitate
A: I wouldn’t necessarily say in the form of a consultant, except perhaps for certain complex buildings. However, an investment should be made in robust programs that address inspection, testing and maintenance of building systems, including fire protection systems.
The building fire protection systems, along with HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems, require periodic checks. These preventative maintenance programs, usually conducted by an outside specialty contractor once a year or so, can catch and remedy a lurking ignition source or a system component that might be on the brink of failure.
Q: Finally, if you could offer employers one piece of advice regarding fire safety, what would that be?
A: One of NFPA’s flagship codes, NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® was developed because of a workplace fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in 1911 in which 146 workers perished.
NFPA 101 addresses the brick-and-mortar concepts — construction and materials, layout and configuration of exits, system requirements and some of the inspection items mentioned before.
The code also addresses the need to have an emergency plan. Company management needs to have procedures nailed down before something happens.
Even when all of the systems work the way they are intended, a plan needs to be developed so all of the building occupants know what actions and responses they need to take should a fire occur.
Following these basic ideas means everybody does come home — and everybody goes back to work the next day.