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The threats facing your business, Part two: fire, carbon monoxide, and environmental hazards

The threats facing your business, Part two: fire, carbon monoxide, and environmental hazards

firefighter working on burned out building

This is Part Two of a series of business security articles brought to you by EPS Security

At first glance…

The phrase “business security” may seem cut and dry, but a comprehensive business security solution is anything but simple. Forget the complexities of design and the nuances of installation; an all-encompassing security system must address multiple threats that face the average business, including (but not limited to):

Protecting from these threats only becomes more difficult with each added complication: is your business open 24/7? Do you work with equipment that can spark, overheat, or catch fire? Do your employees weld or work in any way with high temperature tools? Do you handle toxic or volatile chemicals? Securing a business from the threats that face it—especially the environmental kinds—can get messy fast, but fret not: a well-rounded security solution can be obtained by understanding what your business needs protection from—and with a little help from a professional security provider.

In this series of posts, we’ll more closely examine individual categories of threats that face your business—and what you can do to bolster the safety of your facilities.

fire hose in a case

The problem: Fire, carbon monoxide, and environmental hazards

Burglars may get the bulk of the media attention, but business fires add a different, uniquely dangerous risk for businesses (and business owners): not only can a fire damage property, but it can also harm employees and customers as well. In fact, there are several threats that face businesses day in and day out—fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, and environmental hazards—that require special attention given their potentially fatal consequences.

Fire

Ever since humanity discovered fire, we’ve struggled to harness it safely—and a modern business is no exception. In 2019 alone, some 120,000 fires broke out in commercial properties to the tune of $4.3 billion in property loss. Unlike a burglar, a fire does not discriminate targets. High-quality goods, office supplies, personal effects, and the actual building itself are all at risk, as well as everyone inside.

Fire also doesn’t discriminate by business type. A burglar may target an electronics store, a pharmacy, or a retail business known to carry large quantities of cash, but while certain businesses that deal with volatile chemicals or open, controlled flame are certainly at a higher risk for fire than, say, a car wash, the most common causes of business fires are present in most office, retail, and manufacturing spaces. These causes include:

  • Cooking equipment

  • Electrical/lighting equipment

  • Heating equipment

  • Smoking materials

  • Arson

Just like in the home, most business fires start in the kitchen where combustible materials (crumbs, grease) are used around open flames and food is cooked by oft-distracted employees. Preventative measures can be taken to lessen the risk that a fire will break out in a commercial space, but given the sheer amount of stuff that’s usually packed into a business, once a fire does start, it can easily turn from “controllable outbreak” to “devastating conflagration” in a matter of seconds.

Once a fire breaks loose in a facility, the eventual cost—property loss—gives way to the immediate danger of loss of life. Fire safety in commercial properties in the United States has improved dramatically since the turn of the century, but unfortunately, injuries and deaths do still occur. In 2019, an estimated 1,200 people were injured in business fires and 110 lost their lives. In some particularly cataclysmic years, the number of casualties can climb much higher when a particularly destructive fire occurs in an overly crowded or unsafe space.

One often overlooked danger of fires is both the temporary and potentially permanent job loss that can occur. Minor fires may be put out and repaired in short order, but a more damaging fire can put a business out of commission for a great length of time—perhaps forever. In terms of the threat to life and livelihood, fires are by far the most dangerous risk facing the average business.

man turning key in hand pull stationCarbon monoxide and environmental threats

Unfortunately, fires aren’t the only threat to life lurking in in commercial spaces. For one, odorless, tasteless, and deadly carbon monoxide gas presents a real danger to employees and customers alike. A byproduct of inefficient burning, carbon monoxide leaks are possible whenever an open flame is present. While most businesses are not having bonfires in their lobby, furnaces and hot water heaters are capable of creating carbon monoxide, especially if they are improperly maintained or old. It’s also possible to oversaturate a garage with carbon monoxide gas by simply leaving a vehicle running in a poorly ventilated or enclosed space.

Perhaps due to the imperceptible nature of the gas, carbon monoxide prevention isn’t always afforded the same level of attention as fire prevention. Some business owners dismiss carbon monoxide as a primarily residential issue. Unfortunately, such an attitude can prove deadly: an estimated 50,000 people are admitted to ERs every year with carbon monoxide poisoning; around 420 people lose their lives to the threat annually. Carbon monoxide is an especially sneaky threat in that inhaling a large quantity of the gas can lead to a loss of consciousness, thus preventing any escape from the deadly situation.

Other hazards can prove equally perilous. Any factory or manufacturing plant dealing in toxic or volatile chemicals runs the risk of a spill or accident. Medical facilities may handle biological materials that are life-threatening or otherwise contagious. Depending on the nature of these materials, an outbreak may require immediate evacuation or a quarantine to prevent the spread of the biohazard. Stringent safety procedures can help minimize the risk of such incidents, but even a single mishap can prove catastrophically injurious or deadly to those employees involved.

business fire evacuation signThe solution: Fire alarm and voice evacuation systems

Professionally monitored fire alarm systems for businesses are required by law. The life-saving detection capabilities of such simple devices as smoke detectors, heat detectors, and hand pull stations, in addition to flashing strobes and blaring sirens, have significantly decreased fire-related injuries and fatalities over the last century. While the emphasis is often placed on the eponymous “fire” protection capabilities, a fire alarm system can also include carbon monoxide detectors to alert occupants of a leak before it’s too late.

Learn more about the ins-and-outs of business fire alarm systems

Recent innovations in alarm technology have also led to the adoption of increasingly popular voice evacuation systems. A voice evacuation system functions similarly to a fire alarm system, with a few notable exceptions. A voice evacuation system utilizes similar field equipment—smoke and heat detectors, hand pulls, etc.—but instead of using horns and strobes to alert occupants to a fire, it annunciates the notification through speakers. Pre-recorded messages can be used, or, for facilities that have emergency personnel monitoring the site 24/7, a designated individual can announce evacuation procedures over the phone. Additionally, emergency services can use the voice evacuation system to communicate real-time emergency information upon arrival.

Depending on the equipment installed, a voice evacuation system could be used as a mass notification system. A mass notification system works similarly to voice evacuation, but instead of dealing specifically with fire alarm systems or specifically evacuating a facility, a mass notification system can be used for multiple purposes. In the event of a biohazard accident, you may want to evacuate certain areas but quarantine others. A mass notification system can notify everyone to the conditions give specific commands to use or avoid certain routes while attempting to evacuate the premise. Mass notification systems can be used to notify occupants to a variety of scenarios, ranging from chemical spills to quarantines to active shooters—the latter a topic to be covered in a post later in this series.

eps trucks in front of eps officeThe EPS Advantage

While this series of posts will cover everything from fire risks to employee theft, as an owner or manager, you can’t afford to ignore any one threat against your business. Regarding life safety threats, the success of a fire alarm or voice evacuation system in protecting your employees and property your comes down to a number of factors. One, you need high-end equipment from leading manufacturers to ensure early detection and reliable alerts, potentially aided by the customized notifications of a voice evacuation system. Two, you need systems installed by professionals with a wealth of experience in designing complex life safety systems uniquely tailored to your unique facility layout and vulnerabilities. Thirdly, without professional monitoring, your fire alarm system will sound loudly in your building but won’t notify a soul. Finally, you need a system that can be tested and maintained regularly—and quickly—by professionals to ensure continued functionality. After all, if the threats against your business never stop, your life safety systems can’t, either.

There are reasons EPS Security is Michigan’s largest family-owned security and life safety provider. As a local company, we work to protect businesses within our own communities. Our dedicated team have collective decades of experience in the oft-advanced and complex world of commercial security. Our technicians are trained to install and service equipment from world class vendors such as Honeywell®, NOTIFIER®,  DMP®, AXIS®, and Digital Watchdog® so our customers know that when they’re getting an EPS Security system, they’re getting a security solution with clout.

For more than 65 years, we’ve made protecting Michigan businesses our business. Whether you’re looking to bolster your existing security systems or are looking for a brand-new solution, let EPS Security help you to protect what matters most.

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