Of all the threats that face the modern business, perhaps none is as devastating as that of an uncontrolled fire. In 2018 alone, fires ravaged businesses to the tune of 2.7 billion dollars in property damage and loss. And while fire prevention measures have come a long way since early industrial tragedies such as the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, fires in commercial buildings still claim dozens of lives every year and injures thousands more.
Minimizing the risk of business fires requires business owners and operators to have a fundamental grasp of what primarily causes them. In the spirit of October’s Fire Prevention month, we’ve parsed the data and gathered the top causes of business fires to help owners understand how to proactively protect their business from the threats fires pose—and how a modern fire alarm system can greatly reduce the danger to both life and property.
The chief cause of fires in commercial properties (and homes, for that matter) is cooking-related incidents. In office buildings alone, cooking accounts for almost 30% of office fires. While various cooking-related accidents add to the total, the primary reason for the high number of cooking fires is the fact that many people leave their food unattended as it cooks, bakes, or boils on stove tops and in hot ovens. Requiring employees to stay in the break room while preparing their food can go a long way in minimizing the risk of a fire outbreak. Regular cleaning and maintenance of ovens, microwaves, and toasters can also help to reduce the chances of a fire starting.
Because the kitchen is such a hot spot for fire occurrences, commercial buildings are required to install heat and/or smoke detectors in or around food preparation areas. Regular testing and maintenance of these devices are required annually by fire code to ensure they are prepared to alert both building tenants and local authorities in the event of a fire. However, because kitchen fires often start small, having the appropriate category of fire extinguisher available nearby can help to contain the fire before it spirals out of control.
It only takes a spark
It’s estimated that 12% of fires are caused by faulty lighting or electrical equipment. Regular maintenance and replacement of faulty appliances and electrical devices can help to minimize this risk. What’s more, the unfortunate and common practice of “daisy-chaining” and overloading power strips can stress electrical circuits to the point of overheating, sparking, or general circuit failure. Coupled with cluttered work areas and desks covered in paper, daisy-chaining can be a dangerous practice. A company culture of organization and cleanliness and a strict adherence to OSHA guidelines on daisy-chaining can help to greatly reduce the risk of electrical issues and the fires they cause.
Whether it’s aging HVAC appliances, poorly maintained vents and airways, or flammable items set too close to hot equipment, heating equipment is another major cause of business fires. Heating elements cause an estimated 14% of fires in industrial properties and as many as 11% of the fires seen in office structures. While proper coverage by a fire alarm system is a must, having your building’s HVAC systems regularly maintained by a professional company can help to eliminate flammable buildup or equipment malfunction and reduce the overall risk of fire in your business.
Enforce your smoke-free zones
Michigan passed its Smoke-Free Air Law back in 2009 due to the public health detriments attributed to smoking tobacco products. While the focus may have been on the dangers of secondhand smoke, the law incidentally addressed another major cause of business fires: smoking materials.
Any time an open flame is present, an inherent fire risk develops. And while the Smoke-Free Air Law bans smoking within Michigan businesses, businesses still often designate smoking areas in adjacent areas outdoors for its employees who choose to smoke. Nationwide, smoking-related accidents still account for almost 10% of office fires and 7% of fires in restaurants due to mishandled lighters and cigarettes. If your business does have a designated smoking area, be sure to have ashtrays and proper disposal units readily available and make it a point to clean them on a regular basis to eliminate the chance of debris going up in smoke. Moreover, be sure to enforce a minimum distance smokers must maintain from the building itself to reduces the chances that the building or nearby signage, foliage, or other features adjacent to the façade could catch flame.
When something as common as cooking or a power strip can spark a fire that causes untold sums in damages to your business, it pays to plan ahead and implement fire prevention protocols and best practices. And when fire prevention isn’t enough, detecting the fire in its earliest stages is the best chance you and your employees have at getting out unharmed and stopping the fire’s spread before it becomes catastrophic. An investment in a tried-and-true, top-of-the-line fire alarm system by EPS Security is a smart one backed by 65 years of life safety system engineering, installation, and maintenance and the benefits of local operation and monitoring. When lives and livelihoods are at risk, don’t settle for anything less than the best. Protect your business with EPS security and discover a comprehensive fire alarm solution more than six decades in the making.