The potential for fire hazards in the workplace exists everywhere: in homes, retail shops and commercial buildings.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) identifies 26 different types of fire hazards that can occur from every day conditions.
While most are preventable, some go largely unnoticed until a fire is already burning out of control. Below is an overview of common situations that present a risk to personal safety and property loss.
Smoking materials cause more than one-third of all fires in U.S. workplaces each year, according to NFPA statistics, with another 15 percent started by hot work (welding or soldering).
In addition to regularly scheduled inspections to check for smoking materials at high-risk times such as shift changes, maintaining an “absolutely no smoking” policy is the best way to prevent fires.
2. Greasy areas
Firefighters are more likely to battle a grease fire than any other type of blaze, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all U.S. workplace blazes each year according to NFPA estimates.
Regularly scheduled and random inspections of kitchen areas can help spot grease accumulation before it starts to smoke, giving employees time to respond accordingly.
Water-related incidents caused nearly 20 percent of all non-residential fires in the most recent data compiled by NFPA, with electrical distribution equipment ranking as the top cause.
Buffers such as drains and pool safety covers should be inspected regularly, especially during wet weather, so water does not collect anywhere near equipment.
4. Poor Maintenance of Equipment
Failure to properly maintain equipment may contribute to large-scale accidents, as in the case of a boiler explosion at a chemical refinery in Texas City, TX on April 17, 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured more than 160 others.
As this was an industrial accident, many safety standards are already in place at refineries and other heavy industry facilities ensuring proper maintenance of equipment.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to maintain all machinery according to OSHA regulations 29 CFR 1910 Subpart N. Major pieces of equipment should be inspected regularly during normal working hours, and all emergency shutdown devices must remain readily accessible.
5. Employee safety hazards education
Employees must be educated about fire hazards around flammable liquids such as those used in automotive shops. The most common cause of fires in garages and automotive repair facilities is the failure to extinguish smoking materials, according to NFPA statistics.
Never leave such chemicals unattended; keep containers closed when not in use; review safety guidelines with employees routinely to ensure they never smoke around flammable liquids or spark producing equipment like electric drills.
6. Improper inventory storage
Combustible storage materials are a leading reason for warehouse-related blazes, contributing nearly 20 percent of all U.S. workplace fires each year, per NFPA data on non-residential blazes.
Companies must maintain proper inventory control systems at all times so products do not exceed safe stack limits wherever possible.
This includes thorough stage planning and documentation of shipment dates for sensitive materials such as flammable liquids.
7. Fire extinguishers maintenance
Fire extinguishers are among the first safeguards against small fires that can grow to engulf a large room or facility.
Companies must maintain their safety equipment in accordance with OSHA standards, which requires regular inspections of all firefighting systems and monthly training for employees operating them.
All extinguishing agents should be kept in original containers labeled clearly to identify contents without spillage never mix different types of solutions, follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding proper temperature range and maximum storage time permitted between refills.
8. Photocopying machines
Many companies have easy access to photocopying machines but few realize they pose a significant fire hazard due to overheating problems caused by paper dust and static electricity buildup on the device’s internal components.
Small fires caused by overheating in the machinery are a leading cause of blazes in commercial copying facilities, according to NFPA reports.
Users should keep all internal components clean to ensure proper operation and avoid exposing any part of the machine to liquids or other damaging elements.
9. Overheating motors
Overheated electrical motors such as those found in fan coil units may pose fire hazards for companies using them in wide-open areas where more air can get through ventilation systems.
OSHA requires regular motor inspections and maintenance per 29 CFR 1910 Subpart N, including weekly visual checks for oil and dirt buildup on coils, belts and flywheels; windings must be completely wrapped around their core at all times; all insulation must be intact.
Motors installed outside warehouses or other work environments are at greater risk of overheating due to inappropriate ventilation.
10. Electrical panels
These are the most common cause of fires in buildings, according to NFPA statistics, and can lead to devastating blazes if improperly maintained.
Regulations require companies to maintain electrical systems per 29 CFR 1910 Subpart S, including protecting wiring from physical damage by covering all exposed connections or passing them through conduit, verifying polarity with multimeters prior to installation, providing access panels for routine inspection whenever possible.
All components should be thoroughly inspected at least once a month during normal business hours so minor problems can be corrected before they develop into major malfunctions.
Many federal agencies have published information on how companies should maintain dangerous chemicals such as those used in dry cleaning operations.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), which companies must use to verify chemical hazards prior to using any new substances
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for proper storage, labeling and disposal of toxic components in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
- OSHA Best Practices Workgroup Guidelines on Chemical Management.
12. Compressed gases
These pose potential hazards for companies that work with them or may store them like aerosol cans.
According to the EPA, most gas-related fire incidents involve propane tank explosions, resulting from improper handling by untrained employees or children playing around tanks.
To prevent unwanted exposure or injury from compressed gases such as propane, butane, nitrous oxide or chlorine:
Valves should be inspected diligently each week to prevent damage that could lead to hazardous conditions.
Fluid pressure must remain within suggested maximum levels specified by the manufacturer.
All components and casings should be free of cracks and other signs of damage; excess oil or rust buildup around valves can be a sign of problems with seals.
Flanges must always seal properly against pipe threads for complete safety.
14. Hydrogen peroxide
Proposed OSHA regulations would impose new requirements on companies storing or using large quantities of hydrogen peroxide such as those used in hair dyeing salons.
According to the agency, chemicals like these are potential sources of major fires due to oxidation reactions if overheated or spilled.
Every entity using hydrogen peroxide must adhere to 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Z, including regular cleaning of safety equipment; inspections for damage or other signs of malfunction,
Regular lab testing to make sure the concentration of H2O2 is within normal levels; providing emergency shower and eyewash stations in case of major leaks or spills.
15. Cables with insufficient insulation
According to OSHA statistics, about 50% of all roofing fires are caused by arcing insulators that pass electricity from power lines through metal mounts and brackets on roofs.
Workers should be trained in proper installation techniques including inspecting cables prior to use and ensuring that they completely cover metal components such as rails without forming a loop between conductors.
The NFPA offers additional safety recommendations like avoiding overhead work whenever possible; using insulators made of non-combustible materials rather than wood. installing smoke alarms and conducting safety drills to prepare for potential roof fires.
16. Broken seals
According to NFPA statistics, more than half of all vaporizer fires are caused by broken seals at the top of equipment that allow products like anesthetic gases to escape above the intended level.
Companies should implement policies regarding regular inspection and maintenance, including checking vavle seals with a multi-meter capable of exposing resistances in ohms as low as .05.
Using symbols on pressure gauges or tags to indicate normal ranges; inspecting work areas prior to turning machinery on so heat sources can be turned off if needed.
In 2010, according to NFPA statistics, emergency personnel responded to more than 10,000 reports of fires at or involving hotels and motels.
Most of these incidents were caused by faulty heating equipment (engines, stoves, furnaces and space heaters) that posed a risk for carbon monoxide poisoning if not properly ventilated or kept in good condition.
Companies should develop policies regarding HVAC maintenance staff going through routine inspections around properties.
- Using approved heating components labeled by Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
- Training employees on the warning signs of potentially hazardous conditions such as steam coming from the floor;
- Conducting regular drills for emergencies like fire or water damage to ensure all systems work properly and can be shut down quickly when needed.
18. Improper company vehicle maintenance
According to OSHA statistics, almost half of all vehicle fires are caused by malfunctions with heating equipment like engine compartments.
Company vehicle maintenance staff should go through a checklist to inspect the safety of their repair jobs, including making sure that important parts such as hoses and belts haven’t been forgotten, performing routine oil changes to ensure lubricant hasn’t seeped onto electrical components.
An even using plastic rather than rubberized materials for wiring whenever possible.
19. Monthly safety inspections
According to NFPA statistics, 15% of all fires at shopping centers were caused by faulty illumination or signage, leading to more than $500 million in property damage annually.
Companies should develop policies for monthly inspections (mandatory when it is dark) of emergency exits like doors and lighting systems on paths between buildings and parking lots, checking fixtures above exits for signs of malfunction and conducting emergency evacuation drills.
20. Door locks
According to NFPA statistics, at least 20% of all fires in hotels are caused by faulty door locks and latches that allow dangerous fumes into the rooms during winter months when windows are closed.
Companies should develop policies for monthly inspections (mandatory during November and December) for broken or damaged locks on exterior doors leading from parking lots.
Making sure employees do not tamper with safety equipment like fire alarms and sprinklers and conducting emergency exit drills to make sure they know how to locate exits even in smoke-filled areas.
21. Electrical components
According to OSHA statistics, 15% of industrial fires are caused by failures with electrical components like overheating wiring or power outlets that ignite nearby flammable materials.
Establishing a regular maintenance schedule for any equipment that uses electrical components.
Scheduling routine inspections and checking power outlets with an approved multi-meter capable of detecting breakdowns in resistance as low as .05 ohms.
22. leaking fuel tanks
According to OSHA statistics, nearly 20% of all vehicle fires are caused by leaking fuel tanks or petroleum products spilling onto surfaces near heaters like engine compartments.
Company owners should develop policies regarding plumbing staff replacing hoses more than three years old or showing signs of cracking.
Using plastic rather than rubberized materials whenever possible in wiring connections to avoid corrosive liquids getting near electric components.
Conducting regular inspections of engine components for signs of malfunction.
23. HVAC systems
According to OSHA statistics, faulty ventilation systems are a leading cause of building fires: over 10% were caused by blocked flues or ducts that restricted airflow in fireplaces.
8% were caused by improperly designed vents that allowed dangerous fumes onto upper floors in multi-story buildings. Companies should develop policies regarding HVAC maintenance staff performing routine inspections for any cracks or holes on walls or ceilings.
Using approved materials labeled by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) whenever possible in ductwork and flue pipes.
Conducting monthly emergency drill simulations at different times of day and night so employees know what to do when smoke permeates rooms.
According to NFPA statistics, over 20% of all work-related fires are caused by sparks from equipment malfunctions: sparking machinery near flammable chemicals or improperly installed electrical parts or grinding wheels that come in contact with flammable materials.
Companies should develop policies regarding maintenance staff inspecting the surfaces of machines more than five years old for signs of wear that could leak oils onto other parts.
Conducting regular inspections for faulty wiring and using approved multi-meters to detect dangerous resistance levels.
Replacing grinding wheels at least every six months to get rid of small metal shards that can ignite nearby vapors.
25. Broken pipes
According to OSHA statistics, 17% of industrial vehicle fires were caused by a failure in exhaust systems like broken pipes and loose parts that allowed fumes into the passenger cabins.
Companies should develop policies regarding not using personal vehicles to perform deliveries or carry hazardous materials.
Conducting routine inspections for broken or cracked pipes and loose bolts on mufflers, tailpipes, and exhaust systems; performing regular maintenance checks according to manufacturer guidelines.