One of the most basic tasks the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) expects from businesses is to comply with the fire and safety standards. The majority of employers and employees in the U.S. are subject to OSHA’s compliance requirements. Every business establishment is also expected to undergo a fire safety inspection and pass it.
If the regulations are so strict, how come some deadly fires still ravage industrial sites and leave huge death tolls? Does passing a fire safety inspection mean that you’ve just controlled the risks of fire, and not actually eliminate them?
Some business establishments simply have higher risks of catching flames. Even if their sites are certified fire safe, accidents can still occur, leading to devastating fires. The oil and gas industry is a prime example. Though they employ all necessary measures to prevent explosions, oil leaks, and other fire hazards, no one can be sure that they’ll stay fire-risk-free at all times.
If you specialize in an industry that deals with fire hazards every day, skipping or failing the safety inspections can have serious consequences for you and your employees. Before we head on to OSHA’s regulations, let’s first take a look at two of the worst industrial fires the world has experienced:
The Deadliest Workplace Fires
1. The Triangle Fire
In 1911, a fire ravaged the Triangle shirtwaist factory, killing 150 people at most. This incident prompted a mass movement in the U.S. for safer working conditions. The workers who had died were striking for better pay and more humane conditions, as they should because they were trapped by the doors the factory owners had locked to prevent theft. This rendered them helpless as the fire engulfed the building.
2. The SS Grandcamp Explosion
In April 1947, the cargo ship SS Grandcamp docked in Texas City to pick up a load of ammonium nitrate. As the crew loaded more of the said cargo, they noticed a fire coming from several layers down the piles of sacks. They attempted to extinguish the fire by feeding steam to the hull, since using water would damage the cargo. But they were unsuccessful, so they called the fire department for help.
However, the ship cargo exploded with a force that reached 250 miles. It destroyed more than a thousand buildings and killed 600 people. Two sightseeing planes were even blasted out of the air.
The SS Grandcamp’s explosion was considered the deadliest industrial disaster in U.S. history. It killed half of the firefighters of the Texas City Fire Department, and destroyed equipment too, leaving the city susceptible to a second explosion.
Fire Safety Protocols
Those major fires might’ve happened in the past before fire prevention measures were modernized, but they show what could happen without disaster preparedness. Aside from having fire extinguishers and high-quality fire-resistant (FR) gear, you also need an effective fire prevention plan.
OSHA requires employers to produce a written fire prevention plan that their employees can review. You are exempted from this responsibility if you have less than ten employees, but you must at least communicate your plan verbally. A sound fire prevention plan should list all the fire hazards in a workplace, and identify proper handling and storage of hazardous materials.
The plan should also include the produces that will control the accumulation of flammable materials, and the maintenance tasks to prevent fires. Employees who handle fire hazards must also be indicated in the plan, along with employees who are in charge of reducing fire risks.
You can are responsible for conducting fire safety analysis in your own workplace. But if you’re unsure how to perform the task correctly, you can hire a third-party consultant to do it. If that is too costly for you, OSHA offers a free consultation program, in which a qualified inspector will analyze your workplace’s fire safety.
Consequences of Skipping or Failing a Fire Safety Inspection
Aside from the possibility of a deadly fire, your workers may also file a complaint to OSHA if they believe that you failed to carry out your responsibilities. They may ask OSHA to inspect your workplace to check if you’re really not following the rules. And according to the law, you are not allowed to retaliate. It is your workers’ right to report any injury or safety concern to OSHA. They have thirty days to file a complaint, so consider that your time frame to employ all the necessary fire safety measures.
Fire risks and hazards aren’t something you can downplay, so just because you’re safe today doesn’t mean it’ll that way tomorrow. Train your employees in managing fire risks and hazards, and don’t skimp on your disaster preparedness and prevention plan. It’s better to spend on safety than rescue operations.