I remember learning in school about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in
1911. It was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city, and one of the deadliest in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men – who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three.
As a young girl, I remember feeling sickened as our teacher shared that the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. Many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.
The world has changed dramatically since that tragic fire in Manhattan. So has fire prevention in the workplace. However, according to Occupational Safe & Healthy Administration (OSHA), workplace fires and explosions kill 200 and injure more than 5,000 workers each year. They cost businesses more than $2.3 billion in property damage.
Unexpected explosions and fires in the workplace are frequently caused by risk factors such as faulty gas lines, poor pipefitting, improperly stored combustible materials or open flames. The resulting injuries incurred include damage to the respiratory system, varying degrees of burns and potential disfigurement. Explosions and fires account for 3% of workplace injuries and have the highest casualty rate of all probable workplace accidents.
There are four types of injuries commonly associated with fires and explosions:
Primary Blast Injuries -- Occurs due to the effects of pressure on body tissues, affecting ears, lungs and the GI tract.
Secondary Blast Injuries -- Occurs when flying objects strike nearby workers.
Tertiary Blast Injuries -- High-energy explosions can lift someone off the ground and cause them to fly into surrounding objects.
Quaternary Blast Injuries -- Everything else that happens as a result of an explosion: crush injuries, burns and inhalation of toxic substances.
OSHA recommends following its hazard communication standards to help workers avoid fire and explosion injuries. In addition, material safety data sheets (MSDS) for chemicals should be kept on hand and employees should wear personal protective equipment at all times. Also, every workplace should have a clearly communicated evacuation plan and an effective alert system in place to quickly inform everyone of hazards and emergency situations.
What should employers do to protect workers from fire hazards?
According to OSHA, Employers should train workers about fire hazards in the workplace and about what to do in a fire emergency. If you want your workers to evacuate, you should train them on how to escape. If you expect your workers to use firefighting equipment, you should give them appropriate equipment and train them to use the equipment safely.
What does OSHA require for emergency fire exits?
Every workplace must have enough exits suitably located to enable everyone to get out of the facility quickly. Considerations include the type of structure, the number of persons exposed, the fire protection available, the type of industry involved, and the height and type of construction of the building or structure.
In addition, fire doors must not be blocked or locked when employees are inside. Delayed opening of fire doors, however, is permitted when an approved alarm system is integrated into the fire door design. Exit routes from buildings must be free of obstructions and properly marked with exit signs.
Do employers have to provide portable fire extinguishers?
No. But if you do, you must establish an educational program to familiarize your workers with the general principles of fire extinguisher use. If you expect your workers to use portable fire extinguishers, you must provide hands-on training in using this equipment.
At Arbill, we offer a number of safety products to protect workers from fire. We also offer regulatory complains sessions on Fire Extinguisher (Portable). If your workers are required to use fire extinguishers, we can train them on proper use.
Have a safe day!