Published Date: 11/17/2014
By Reneé Watkins
Most companies perform routine, scheduled fire drills either as a part of a compliance or regulatory directive, or simply as a “best practice” to provide a safe work environment for their employees. However, as there is no real fire during a drill, how can these drills replicate a situation in which a fire is real or predict the actual reactions of employees during a real fire?
During a fire drill, an alarm sounds and employees quickly and calmly walk to a pre-determined exit and assemble in a pre-determined area outside your facility. During a real fire, however, would things go quite as smoothly?
While it is both impractical and dangerous to conduct a fire drill that involves an actual fire, employees should be prepared via training on how to effectively deal with potential complications they may encounter during an actual fire. Things to consider include:
Power Failure – Fires can knock out power to the organization. Normal lighting may be replaced by dimmer and sparser emergency lighting. Automatic doors may fail and require manual opening. Workers should be trained on how to manually open automatic doors and how to follow their escape route with dim or no light.
Smoke – As a fire spreads, smoke accumulates and becomes thicker at the top of rooms and hallways. This smoke is toxic and makes it more difficult to see a clear path to an exit. Smoke can also contribute to employee confusion and therefore create panic. To avoid this, workers should practice crawling to the exits on their hands and knees.
Blocked Exits – It is important to make sure exit doors are not locked or chained and exit routes are not blocked with materials, product or trash. Routine checks of exit doors should be conducted as part of your safety policy to make sure exit routes and doors are clear in the event of a real emergency.
Multiple Routes – Some fires may start as the result of an explosion. Such an event can cause a route or exit to be blocked by debris, making it impossible to exit via your planned route. Also, fire could spread to your exit route or exit door prior to your getting there. In either case, employees need to be aware of multiple routes out of the building in the event of a fire. If one route is blocked, they need to have an alternate plan for evacuating.
Incorporate these unpredictable factors into your fire drills where practical for a “real world” drill to ensure the safety of your employees. Those factors that cannot be incorporated should be discussed in safety training to better prepare employees for the unexpected during a real emergency.