Workplace fire safety requires an extremely high priority among matters of facilities management. A fire in a commercial setting has the potential to destroy thousands or even millions of dollars of merchandise, raw materials, and equipment. Even more importantly, a fire of that type could have an enormous human toll of injuries or deaths. Here are some factors to keep in mind when deciding the best way to deal with workplace fire safety equipment.
Workplace Fire Safety Equipment
Workplace fire safety equipment has three main functions:
- To detect fires or unsafe conditions. This detection ability should extend throughout your commercial facility and be especially responsive in areas where personnel are not always present, such as basements, attics, or out-of-the-way rooms.
- To sound an alarm when fires, smoke, or carbon monoxide are detected. These alarms can be visual or auditory and are intended to warn occupants they need to evacuate the building immediately. Some alarms are designed to automatically notify local fire departments and emergency personnel.
- To suppress or extinguish fires. This feature can stop fires before they get out of control or, in the worse cases, slow the spread of the fire sufficiently to allow persons more time to get out of the building and firefighters more time to respond.
Portable Fire Extinguishers
Portable fire extinguishers are among the more common workplace fire safety devices. These individual units are easily identified by their red color and tank-like appearance. They are designed to be used by individuals against small fires.
Fires are classified as follows:
- Class A: Paper, wood, cardboard, or plastic.
- Class B: Flammable or combustible liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, or other fuels.
- Class C: Electrical fires.
- Class D: Combustible metals, such as magnesium, sodium, titanium, or potassium.
- Class K: Kitchen fires.
The main types of portable fire extinguishers found in workplaces are:
- Water: Used against Class A fires.
- Water mist: Used against Class A and C fires.
- Dry chemical extinguishers: Used against Class ABC or BC fires.
- Carbon dioxide extinguishers: Used against Class B and C fires.
- Metal or sand extinguishers: Used against Class D fires.
In general, fire extinguishers should be inspected and tested at least once a year. They should be replaced if they show signs of damage or wear, such as:
- Cracked, ripped, or blocked hose.
- Damaged or clogged nozzle.
- Missing pin from the handle.
- Loose or wobbly handle.
- Cracked, dented, or damaged tank/shell.
- Low internal pressure.
In most cases, fire extinguishers can be recharged or refilled after they've been used. The contractor who does the recharging can inspect them to make sure they are fit for reuse or if they should be replaced or upgraded.
Upgrading existing fire extinguishers to better, more effective models is always a good idea if doing so is within budget or is indicated by fire safety plans.
Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Smoke alarms respond to the presence of smoke or fumes related to fires. They detect obvious smoke and, in many cases, even invisible or hard-to-see fumes and combustion by-products that indicate the possibility of fire.
Carbon monoxide detectors respond to the presence of carbon monoxide, or CO, which is a highly dangerous gas generated when fuel or other flammable materials burn. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, but it is also extremely dangerous. In severe cases, carbon monoxide can cause harm or even death before a person even realizes they've been exposed to the gas.
- Battery-powered smoke alarms and CO detectors should be tested at least once a month.
- Batteries should be replaced every six months.
- Smoke alarms and CO detectors should be replaced every ten years.