Preventing Office Fires

Fire in the stairwell

Office fires can be a major hazard for employees and everything involved in a business. It can seriously injure people in the workplace while reducing crucial business data to ashes. In order to prevent office fires, it is important to be aware of the causes of office fires and take steps to prevent them.

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1. Smoking

Although it may seem like a normal activity, smoking in the office is one of the most common causes of fire. Cigarettes are only one form of fire hazard in the workplace. All types of combustible material can contribute to indoor fires that can ravage an entire building. As hard as it may be to believe, cigarettes are the leading cause of office fires. It is estimated that 40 to 45 percent of all fires in offices are caused by cigarettes. There are several reasons why smoking is highly likely to cause a fire:

  • Placing cigarettes on combustible materials such as paper and plastic causes them to smolder slowly and combust with less resistance
  • Studies have shown that the cigarette is actually more likely to catch fire if it is left unattended than when it is smoked and properly extinguished.
  • Most smokers do not have a safe place where they can dispose of used butts. Instead, they often discard them by placing them in trash cans, paper recycling containers, and plastic bins. These areas are the equivalent of a fire waiting to happen.

Having designated smoking areas is not enough. These places must be away from combustible materials such as paper supplies, furniture, curtains, etc. Employees should have an updated fire evacuation plan that includes the location of all escape areas and the fastest way to get there in the event of a fire.

2. Heating system malfunctions

Failure of heating systems is one of the most common causes of office fires. The National Fire Protection Association has noted that 25 to 30 percent of all commercial building fires are a result of a malfunction in a piece of equipment related to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). Temperature regulation is a critical function for office environments. But this can be easily prevented with proper furnace installation along with regular inspection and maintenance of the furnace and air ducts.

Inspection of furnaces must be done on a more regular basis than once every six months. In order to properly maintain a heating system, it should be checked for malfunction at least once a month. The most common problem with these devices is that they become blocked by lint and dust. Furnace filters should be maintained on a monthly basis and the furnace cleaned every three months.

3. Electrical malfunctions

Electrical malfunctions are another common cause of office fires. Electrical equipment like computers, printers, fax machines, and copiers are just some examples that rely on electricity to function properly. If these devices do not receive the appropriate amount of electricity, they will not perform to the standards expected. This can result in office fires if there is a malfunction or overload of electrical equipment.

Although office fires caused by electrical malfunctions are far less common than those caused by smoking or heating system failures, they still cause significant damage. Employers can reduce the probability of electrical-related office fires through regular maintenance and testing of their devices. Despite being highly regulated, these devices are not 100 percent safe from malfunctioning on occasion. This is where individual employee responsibility comes in. They should be able to maintain their own devices and should know what to do in case of an unexpected malfunction that may lead to a fire.

4. Flammable materials placed too close to heat sources

Office workers often bring items like candles or plants into their work area for decoration purposes. This can be a fire hazard because these objects are likely to ignite if they come in contact with the heating element. Employees should be informed that having flammable objects near any type of electrical equipment can be hazardous.

If employees tend to burn candles in the office, coffeemakers and hotplates should not be used because even the smallest flame can start a fire. More importantly, combustible materials like curtains and paper files should never be placed near heat sources. It is best to keep these at least three feet (one meter) away from any heat sources.

Fires are a common hazard in the workplace. They can be caused by a variety of factors, such as smoking, electrical malfunctions, and flammable materials near heat sources. However, many fires can be prevented through proper safety precautions. Employers should ensure that their employees are aware of the dangers of fire and know how to prevent them. Employees should also take responsibility for maintaining their own devices and keeping flammable objects away from heat sources. By following these simple tips, we can help reduce the number of office fires each year.

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