Tips Offered For Prevention Of Costly Fires at the Workplace

Tips Offered For Prevention Of Costly Fires at the Workplace

"Fire is our friend," the old hermit told Frankenstein's monster.

Here are some things to think about with respect to fires.

1. Electrical fires are by far the leading cause of small-business property losses. Wiring problems are particularly likely to be found in structures built before 1950. "Knob and tube wiring" was commonly used before World War II. Ceramic knobs were mounted to building studs, and copper wiring with fiber insulation was wrapped around them. Often, mazes of such wiring are visible in the basements or attics of older structures. The insulation on such old wiring can fray, leading to shorts and subsequent fires. Aluminum wiring, which was commonly used in the 1960s and 1970s, easily overheats, causing its insulation to crack and deteriorate. Fuse boxes are another danger sign of an older system; circuit breakers should have replaced them.

2. Your system can be overtaxed by the power needs of such modern office equipment as personal computers, printers, fax machines and appliances such as microwave ovens in your displays. Turn off all equipment and appliances at the end of the day.

3. In the workplace or on the job site, be sure your subcontractors use extension cords that are sturdy enough to carry the current that will be drawn through them. Don't put them down in areas with a lot of foot traffic, or place them under carpets. Replace damaged extension cords; don't try to patch them up with electrical tape.

4. Given the growing use of electrical equipment and appliances everything from coffee makers to cell-phone rechargers in small businesses today, the use of power strips is becoming increasingly common. In extreme cases, one sees "piggybacking," in which one power strip is plugged into another. Suddenly, an outlet meant to provide power to two electrical devices is serving six or even a dozen. As a result, the wiring draws a lot of current through it, leading to overheating, the breakdown of wire insulation and other problems. If power strips are popping up everywhere, it's a good indication that your business needs additional circuits and outlets.

5. If you have a shop where wood or solid surface is cut, sanded or routed, make sure you have a spark suppressor in your dust collection equipment. Suspended dust can serve as an explosive.

6. Your business will use a lot of flammable materials on the job site and will need to store them in your workplace. Be sure adhesives, paint thinners, paints, cleaning compounds and other volatile chemicals are stored properly in specially designed cabinets that can maintain a cool inside temperature, even if there's a fire outside. They cost about $200 to $500, depending on their size, and one is often all a small business needs. Be sure you don't put the cabinet or cabinets anywhere near an exit.

In addition, note that all hazardous chemicals including paint, bleach, inks, dyes and other common substances come with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) describing their properties, explaining how they react with other chemicals, specifying how they can be safely handled and stored, etc. Be sure these MSDSs are accessible to all employees and be certain that your employees read and understand them.

7. Be sure your employees know where the fire exits are, and be sure those exits are kept accessible and clear at all times. And, of course, smoking in the workplace and on the job site should be strictly forbidden.

8. A small fire suppression system or alarm system is costly but can provide peace of mind, and may cut your insurance premiums.

After a fire, about two-thirds of small businesses never reopen, despite whatever insurance they may carry. Planning beforehand can make your business one of the ones that survives and that alone is worth its weight in gold.