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Fire Drills In The Workplace

Your first interaction with a fire drill was probably at school when everyone would follow the teacher and wait for instructions to be given. Ask any school-age child about fire drills, and they will probably tell you about doing a mock emergency evacuation during the school year. Schools repeat fire drills often so that routine becomes a habit and kids know what to do without really thinking about it. Fire drills at the workplace are also important and must be done as recommended by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). Fire drills should be conducted to help ensure that employees know where to escape when the fire alarm goes off. The fire drill also educates employees on what to do when they leave the building. Employees are required to practice fire safety procedures at the workplace for their own safety during a fire hazard.

There may be a low chance of a real fire in your facility, but it’s still important to have critical information like fire exits, extinguishers, and emergency supplies memorized, so that if complications arise, your team knows how to respond. It is possible that evacuation routes could be partially blocked, or doors are jammed, and you will need alternative routes. Other building occupants may inadvertently impact your plans to vacate their offices at the same time. Regular fire drills will reveal these issues.

At the workplace, all employees need to be empowered to know what to do in case of a fire emergency and not look for a specific person to tell them what to do. The best way to empower employees is to provide them with the right information and training that will save lives. We’ll go over 5 important steps to running a successful fire drill at work.

Step 1: Create and maintain a fire preparedness and evacuation plan

All employers are required to create a fire and evacuation plan that outlines the policies and procedures to follow in the event of a fire emergency. Most businesses appoint a safety committee that is responsible for creating this plan. Everyone needs to be on board when you conduct a fire drill at work.

At a minimum, your fire and evacuation plan should include:

A. The preferred message for reporting/alerting fellow employees to fires and other life safety emergencies

B. Evacuation policies and procedure

C. Designated safe assembly locations

D. Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, maps, and secure or refuge areas

E. Clear roles and responsibilities for fire, evacuation, or other emergencies

Step 2: Educate the employees

Once your policies and procedures for fire evacuations are in place, the next step is sharing the plan with employees. Be sure every employee receives this information when they first begin working at your organization and review it regularly with your entire team.

The emergency plan should be documented and given to employees in written form (or another accessible form). It should also be shared in-person to allow team members to ask questions.

Also, be sure evacuation routes, fire protection equipment, and fire alarm pull stations are clearly marked.

Step 3: Conduct a Fire Drill and Track Results

Now it’s time to conduct a workplace fire drill. Sound the fire alarm to be heard and seen by every employee. When running the fire drill, you need to keep track of how fast the employees are exiting the building and meeting at the proper location. Work to achieve a better response time during the next drill.

Fire drills are not successful unless every employee is accounted for outside of the building. This crucial step of the drill occurs at the assembly point. The designated area should be a familiar and agreed-upon location that is strategically placed outside the building. For large companies, multiple assembly areas allow for maximum efficiency with a separate fire team leader at every point.

Your fire safety team will want to set goal standards for the fire drill. If you include these in your first drill, you can try to improve them in subsequent drills. For instance, if your first drill takes 15 minutes to get everyone safely outside because you discover people are visiting the restroom or wrapping up calls, you have work to do.

Some metrics to measure:

A. Time from drill activation to evacuation

B. Time to report completion of the drill

C. Successful shutdown of equipment (where appropriate)

Step 4: Motivate Employees Participation Improvement

Even though practicing a fire evacuation plan can be lifesaving, some employees won’t take the exercise as seriously as they should.

Motivate employees to take these fire drills seriously and be actively involved in the training sessions. For instance, after a successful fire drill, you can offer an incentive such as free lunch or leaving early on Friday.

Step 5: Conduct Regular Fire Drills

Practice makes perfect! It’s important to make fire response second nature at the workplace and this can only be done if there are regular fire drills. These fire drills will also help to create a culture of preparedness at work.

Once your employees have mastered a basic fire drill, your fire safety leaders should design more intricate scenarios. Change up variables within the drill to train employees on how to react when complications arise. For example, add obstacles such as closed stairwells, broken elevators, and blocked exits so you can simulate a more realistic environment.

Other Considerations to Improve Fire Safety

A. As new employees are onboarded, their new manager could handle a simple walk-through of their evacuation route.

B. Conduct drills at random times to simulate a real-world scenario and improve overall preparedness. 

C. Companies with extensive chemicals and equipment should ideally conduct drills every three months. For most everyone else, twice per year is adequate.

D. If a key fire safety leader leaves the company, make sure to replace them immediately and then do a leaders-only walkthrough of the fire drill procedures.

Fire evacuations are serious situations to prepare for. And with the health and safety of your team at stake, getting it right by thorough planning is critical. If you are clear with your employees about what is expected of them and how it will benefit them, everyone will appreciate the effort to make your drills efficient and professional. And everyone will be confident about how to exit the building safely in the event of a fire.

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