Creating a Fire Escape Plan for Businesses
Fire escape plans for businesses are more than perfunctory documents—if disaster strikes, they could be the difference between life and death for your personnel. For companies of all sizes and across all industries, it’s vitally important to have well-planned, up-to-date fire escape plans that all staff are familiar with. If your business doesn’t yet have fire escape plans, or if they’re in need of updates, check out this guide before you get started.
How to Draft a Fire Escape Plan for Your Commercial Building
No two fire escape plans will be alike, as they must consider your building size and layout, number of occupants, and many other factors. However, all plans should start at the same place: with a diagram of your floorplans. These plans should include the locations of fire extinguishers, emergency alarms, and first aid kits. Then, identify at least two evacuation routes from each room or area. Primary routes will most likely be the direct route to the closest exit, while secondary routes may consist of windows.
As you create these plans, walk around the facility to ensure accuracy. Any windows included in your fire escape plan must actually be able to open—breaking a window should not be considered an adequate escape plan, and they must not be painted shut. Hallways should be wide enough to accommodate the number of workers in the area. All exits and escape routes should be clearly marked and well-lit, and must be kept clear of obstacles at all times. (These are guidelines to help you understand the considerations that must go into protecting your employees and visitors. To ensure you are in compliance with all local and state requirements, proper fire evacuation planning may require the assistance of a professional architect or engineer.)
Remember, too, that one size doesn't fit all. You may need separate evacuation plans and procedures for employees with disabilities or those who don’t speak English.
The final version of your fire escape plans, showing the exits and evacuation routes for all areas, should be displayed prominently. Post them near elevators and doors so that staff can familiarize themselves with the plans.
Designate a Meeting Place Outside the Building
Your fire escape plan shouldn’t stop at getting everyone out of the building. Next, identify an assembly location for employees to gather after they’ve evacuated. To reduce confusion, this spot should have a clear, identifiable landmark—such as a large tree, bench, or company sign—but it should also be located a safe distance away from the building. It should also be out of the way of emergency services, so that your driveway and fire lanes remain clear.
As employees gather here, a designated staff member should take a head count, check names off a list, or use your preferred method to ensure that all staff are accounted for. The fire department will need to know if anyone is missing and where they were last seen. This can be especially difficult if employees are working on modified schedules, in staggered workstations, or from home part-time. However, speed and accuracy are critical here: delays in gathering this information can be deadly, while an inaccurate headcount can put first responders in unnecessary danger. If it isn’t feasible to track this information on paper, consider an access control system that allows you to always know who is in the building.
Rehearse Your Fire Escape Plans
If your employees are unprepared in the event of a real emergency, panic can make a bad situation worse. To help everyone learn what they need to do, review the company’s detailed plans with your employees annually, and hold fire drills at least once per year as well. Keeping chaos to a minimum is crucial in any disaster, and fire drills have been proven to reduce participants’ panic, thereby increasing the chances of a quick, orderly evacuation with minimal loss.
Regular practice will also give you the chance to refine your business’ fire escape plan and identify any areas that need improvement.
For a safe, effective evacuation during a business fire, your staff will need to know more than just the escape routes. Make sure your employees are prepared with these evacuation instructions.
- Make immediate evacuation your first and only priority. Do not remain in the building to gather your belongings, etc.
- Take the stairs. Unless your building’s elevator is specifically designed to be used in an emergency, evacuate via the stairs. Otherwise, you may become trapped if the power goes out.
- Stay low to the ground. Heat rises, so the air near the floor will be cooler and less smoky, and easier to breathe.
- Test doorknobs. Before opening a door, touch the knob with the back of your hand. If the knob feels hot, don’t open the door. Proceed to another exit, if possible.
- Open doors carefully. If the door handle is not hot, open the door slowly, checking to see if the room is hot or filled with smoke. If it is, pull the door closed again and proceed to another exit, if possible.
- Close doors behind you. When entering a room or stairwell, pull the door closed behind you to help keep the smoke out.
Of course, your fire escape plan is only effective so long as everyone in the building is alerted as quickly as possible. A high-quality fire alarm system can detect smoke sooner, providing critical escape escape time when every second counts. Alarms of Berkshire County can make sure you have the protection you need for your business.