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October 11, 2004
Make Fire Prevention a Hot Issue

In observance of National Fire Prevention Week, here are some ideas for effective training in preventing fires in your workplace.

Follow the plan. OSHA regulations require many companies to have written Fire Prevention Plans. The basic requirements for such plans are clearly spelled out in the rules (29 CFR 1910.39) and can be used as a fire prevention training session outline:

  • A list of all major fire hazards
  • Proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials
  • Potential sources of ignition and how to control them
  • Controlling accumulations of flammable and combustible materials, such as oily rags and piles of waste paper and cardboard
  • Proper maintenance of safety devices on heat-producing equipment designed to prevent fires
  • Identification of the people responsible for maintenance of fire prevention equipment and control of flammable fuel sources

Hazard information is key. OSHA also requires employers to inform employees about potential fire hazards of their jobs at the time they are assigned to these jobs and to review aspects of the Fire Prevention Plan that apply to them. In other words, it may not be enough to simply review all the possible fire hazards in the workplace and how to avoid them; the training should be specific to each job area. Examples might include:

  • Reviewing the hazards of flammable chemicals and training employees to read the MSDSs and labels for these chemicals
  • Why It Matters...
    • Fire departments responded to 1.6 million fires in 2003. Those fires caused nearly 4,000 civilian deaths.
    • Fires caused more than $12 billion in property damage in 2003, more than three times the amount of damage caused by hurricanes and tornados combined.
    • In FY 2003, OSHA cited more than 250 violations of rules related to fire prevention and emergencies, with penalties totaling nearly $100,000.
  • Knowing how to safely handle and store flammable substances such as chemical compounds and flammable gases
  • Identifying specific sources of heat or ignition in the work area, and how to control them
  • Housekeeping measures needed to reduce hazards

Consider a "Fire Risk Assessment." Training sessions are usually most effective when the audience is directly involved and participating. Conduct an exercise in which the group names all the possible fire hazards in their work areas and ranks each hazard as Low, Medium, or High Risk. This will help employees understand the most critical fire hazards and what they need to do to prevent a disaster.

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