Workplace fires are more common than you might think. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments respond to a fire somewhere in the nation every 24 seconds. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to understand the risks and do everything possible to prevent fires from occurring.
At Highmark Analytics, we have over 20 years of experience helping companies protect their facilities, assets, and, most importantly, their people. We distribute and service gas analyzers and emissions monitoring equipment to help organizations across industries meet EPA emissions standards and ensure their large machinery and systems run safely and efficiently. By partnering with us, we can help you choose the right equipment to minimize fire hazards right from the start. Here are 10 of the most common fire hazards in work environments and tips on mitigating the risks in your facilities.
1. Faulty Electrical Equipment
Electrical equipment is the leading cause of workplace fires, producing over 24,000 blazes per year. Things like old wiring, overloaded outlets, and faulty appliances can produce sparks or overheat and ignite nearby combustibles. To reduce electrical fire risks, businesses should conduct routine inspections and replace damaged or outdated electrical equipment. Ensure there are sufficient outlets so cords aren’t overloaded, and enforce organizational policies to avoid paper buildup around electronics. It’s also critical that certified electricians handle all electrical work to avoid amateur mistakes.
2. Flammable Materials Storage
On average, over 4,500 workplace fires originate from improperly stored flammable materials. These substances, like chemicals, fabrics, solvents, and paper goods, are a key fuel source feeding facility blazes. Organizations should keep only necessary quantities onsite to safely manage them and store these items in dedicated flammable storage cabinets away from potential ignition sources. Always clearly label materials and train staff on proper handling to avoid mishaps. Also, prohibit smoking near any inventory containing flammables.
3. Cooking Appliances
Kitchen appliances like stoves, microwaves, and toasters lead to around 2,000 annual office fires due to grease buildup and unintended operation. To use these cooking appliances safely:
- Keep them clean and replace any with fraying electrical cords.
- Never leave powered devices unattended; install exhaust hoods to remove excess heat and fumes.
- Have appropriate fire extinguishers nearby in case cooking materials ignite unexpectedly.
4. Smoking Materials
Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, lighters, and other smoking materials ignite thousands of workplace fires annually due to improper disposal. To prevent such blazes, businesses must prohibit smoking indoors and except in designated outdoor areas with sturdy ashtrays and cigarette butt receptacles. Use sand-filled buckets for safe butt disposal. Also, locate outdoor smoking areas at least 25 feet from building entrances and any external flammable storage.
5. Hot Work Activities
Hot work like welding and soldering produces sparks that can travel up to 35 feet to ignite materials. Without precautions, this leads to many avoidable blazes — over 2,800 per year, according to NFPA data. To perform hot work safely, businesses should designate specific areas away from combustibles for these activities and cover nearby surfaces with fire-resistant sheets as an added barrier. Also, be sure to shut off any fuel sources, properly ventilate the space before beginning, and fire-watch the area for at least 30 minutes after work is completed.
6. Portable Heaters
While convenient on cold days, portable space heaters are responsible for over 1,500 workplace fires per year due to close contact with combustibles. To use portable heaters safely, businesses should only purchase newer, UL-certified models with tip-over protection. Power off and unplug heaters when leaving workspaces unattended. Place such devices on flat surfaces at least 3 feet from anything flammable and never allow storage of objects on top, which can fall onto heating elements.
7. Spontaneous Combustion
While less common, materials like oily rags can self-ignite through spontaneous combustion under the right conditions. This occurs when oils undergo an oxidation reaction leading to intense, localized heat buildup. Properly dispose of grease-stained rags in covered metal containers to prevent spontaneous combustion fires. Also, stack lumber or similar material neatly to enable airflow and slow oxidation risks. Keep any piles separated from buildings and flammables, and control dust accumulation on lighting, machinery, and electronics, which can also ignite.
8. Industrial Ovens and Boilers
High-powered equipment like industrial ovens and boilers reach extreme temperatures and thus carry explosion dangers from gas leaks. To operate them safely, use qualified personnel to install all such equipment according to manufacturer specifications. Perform routine maintenance and inspections to check for damage or component failures that may lead to gas leaks or other hazards. Also, be sure to properly train staff on all safe equipment use procedures. For an added safety net, integrate automatic emergency shut-off functionality connected to gas leak detectors.
9. Flammable Liquid Spills
Flammable liquids also introduce extreme hazards, especially if large uncontrolled spills occur. Flammable liquid spills can create substantial quantities of vapors that ignite rapidly into intense flash fires from nearby ignition sources. Always use leak-proof containers clearly labeled with their volatile contents to prevent such catastrophes. Also, store and transport only necessary quantities isolated from potential ignition sources. Have proper spill containment and cleanup supplies on hand for immediate deployment in case of any escaping liquids. Make sure to train staff on proper spill response procedures as well.
10. Arson and Vandalism
Unfortunately, malicious acts also contribute to workplace fires. Installing security alarm systems with video surveillance capabilities goes a long way toward deterrence by increasing the risk of getting caught. Ensure all facility entry points stay locked during off hours. Quickly repair any vandalism and graffiti that could inspire additional such behaviors if left unchecked. Always report suspicious activity on properties promptly to law enforcement.
Reduce Your Risks with Help from the Experts
Now that you know about the top 10 workplace fire hazards, it’s time to evaluate your facility thoroughly. By understanding the unique risks present and taking proactive precautions, companies can feel confident they’ve taken every reasonable measure to prevent fires and protect what matters most. Here at Highmark Analytics, your safety drives our mission. Please reach out if you have any questions or want to discuss options for your facility.
Our team at Highmark Analytics has extensive experience installing emissions monitoring equipment and helping organizations meet critical EPA emissions standards for safe operation. We offer comprehensive site assessments and can make expert recommendations customized for your exact environment. Over 50% of Fortune 500 companies trust us to help them make the right purchase the first time to truly minimize fire risks. We’d love to schedule a consultation to explore ways we can help you operate both profitably and safely. Reach out today to get started!