Understanding and applying proper warehouse fire protection and safety procedures means having the right amount of protection for workers and company assets, as well as providing safety training regularly. Too little protection can mean a catastrophic loss of property or goods and putting employees in danger. Going too far, however, could create an aura of fear and hinder employees’ job performance.
How do I know what I need?
Become familiar with the local fire codes and then hire a professional who can audit your facility and tell you what you need to add or replace. This task cannot be done with just a little research. Codes can seem vague or use draconian language, making it difficult for you to casually read. Find a specialist with a background in your industry so they can make recommendations based on the codes that apply to you.
What kinds of requirements do I have to follow?
Specific requirements are spelled out in your local codes. There are a few requirements for any warehouse:
- Warehouses of all sizes must have an automated sprinkler system.
- There is a minimum space required between storage (e.g., pallets) and sprinklers.
- Aisles that result in a dead end at a wall have a maximum length.
- For material stored in unconfined piles, there must be an aisle every few feet.
- Restrictions about smoking, including designated locations and signage.
- Propane fuel tanks and aerosol containers must meet specific requirements.
- Plastics have many storage and packaging requirements.
- Anything that falls into the hazardous material category (e.g., gasses, explosives, flammable liquids) have substantial storage and fire protection requirements.
What is the purpose of fire codes and requirements?
Fire codes have evolved over time and are designed to help businesses prevent fires and, in the event of a fire, contain it until it can be safely extinguished. These rules minimize property losses and prevent injuries. The better the prevention, the better the chance of minimizing any fire damage.
How do I protect workers?
Fire inspectors look for hazardous situations that affect the workers as much as the merchandise. Some things an inspector looks for during a fire inspection include:
- Aisles and doors that are blocked, preventing people from escaping
- Sprinkler systems that do not work
- Missing or inoperative fire extinguishers
- Emergency lights or signs that are missing or not working
- Overloaded or otherwise unsafe electrical wiring or extension cords
When properly addressed, precautionary measures can prevent injury and fatalities in the event of a fire.
An organized approach to fire protection and prevention
A good model for maintaining a high level of protection in the warehouse is to adopt the 5S approach:
- Sort – Sort through everything. Keep only what is needed and get rid of the rest.
- Set – Set up an appropriate place for everything and keep it there.
- Shine – Do proper maintenance and cleaning in the warehouse and on equipment.
- Standardize – Create standard procedures and educate workers about their use.
- Sustain – Evaluate each of the above steps and make changes to improve the process.
Don’t just follow the rules
Passing fire inspections and keeping your facilities up to code will not completely erase the potential for a fire. Don’t assume that your warehouse and your workers are safe; instead, be proactive. Schedule regular drills and inspections and keep track of all safety measures, making sure to replace safety hardware when it’s nearing the end of its useful life. Remain dedicated to fire safety to prevent your company from becoming another statistic.
Jessica is a freelance blogger and an admin for Instructions Optional. Her interest for construction and large scale projects has stemmed from DIY and home improvement projects as well as working for a commercial water damage restoration company. She enjoys learning about worksite safety and keeping up with the industry on Twitter (@jessstark9).