10 Common Fire Safety Violations in Commercial Buildings

Critical Planning for Fire Safety

Why is it important to know about common fire safety violations? Fires can wreak havoc on any commercial property in a matter of minutes. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2018 alone, 500,000 structural fires were reported in the United States – that’s one fire every 63 seconds. These fires accounted for more than $11 billion in damages. Does your property have the necessary fire safety measures in place to keep people safe?

Fires can get out of control very quickly. In fact, in as little as 30 seconds fires can double in size. A fire will spread more quickly if there are flammable items in its path, like certain furniture. That is why it’s so important to prevent violations and improve safety.

Acting today to correct your fire code violations will not only save you from fines during inspection, but also help you avoid costly damages and most importantly, protect the people working in your building.

Avoid these common fire safety violations:

1) Blocked Doors Preventing a Safe Exit

All exit doors must allow occupants to escape quickly during a drill or an emergency. Blocked passages and exit doors unfortunately are very common in busy workplaces. Leaving deliveries in hallways or storing goods in front of doorways, even for a few short hours, could be life-threatening if a fire breaks out and you need to evacuate. Be sure that aisles, stairways and walkways are clear and easy to navigate at all times.

2) Faulty Emergency Exit Lighting

All commercial buildings are required to have illuminated, unblocked exit signs. Exit signs must be tested and certified annually in order to pass fire safety inspections. These signs require backup batteries so that they can remain lit for at least 90 minutes during power outages. It’s a good idea to change exit sign batteries on the same day every year. A broken sign could mean life or death for a building occupant trying to exit during a fire.

3) Untested Fire Alarm Systems and Smoke Detectors

Fire alarm systems must be tested annually by a licensed technician. It is easy to forget to test these systems, especially if they are blocked by equipment or merchandise. Make sure that all fire alarm pull stations remain unblocked and are tested annually. In addition, keep up with missing or faulty smoke detectors by addressing chirping noises immediately, and replacing batteries on the same day every year. Unmaintained fire alarm systems and smoke detectors could result in more property damage and could be a contributing factor in building occupants not surviving a fire.

4) Extension Cords in Long-Term Use

You may have planned on using an extension cord as a temporary fix, but then left it in use for weeks or even months. Extension cords are designed for temporary use only and become a fire hazard if used permanently, making them one of most severe, yet common, fire code violations you can commit. Hire a licensed electrician to install electrical outlets where extension cords have been in use and be sure that the outlets, electrical panels and junction boxes are properly covered with UL-listed plates, as many commercial building fires stem from worn or faulty electrical wiring.

5) Missing or Damaged Fire Extinguishers

Ignoring inspections and maintenance of fire extinguishers is one of the most common violations. Missing, damaged, or partially used fire extinguishers are especially common in big box stores or large warehouses where it can be difficult to keep track of all of them. All fire extinguishers in your business should be fully charged, regularly inspected, and classified for each area of your building. Fire extinguishers are occupants’ first line of defense. If they do not work or are not available, fires can easily spread within minutes, resulting in further damage to the property or harm to the people inside.

6) Mismatched Sprinkler Systems

If your business was originally built for another purpose, sprinkler requirements for the particular type of building use could be mismatched. Sprinkler systems have vastly different requirements for different spaces, commodities and occupancy. If your building is newly converted, be sure to update your fire sprinklers to match your design and hazard classification. If the building does not have a sprinkler system, it’s important to consider having one professionally installed. Your system must also be professionally serviced as recommended by your municipality. A mismatched sprinkler system could result in the sprinklers not going off during a fire. This would result in more damage to the property, as well as significantly decreasing safety for the occupants.

7) Using Fire Pump or Riser Rooms as Storage Closets

While fire pump or riser rooms may seem like a great space for additional storage, storing anything other than fire protection equipment in them is a major violation. In the event of a fire, emergency personnel need to get into the space to work quickly and extra items prohibit or slow their ability to access important equipment. Be sure to check your fire pump and riser rooms for mops, brooms, and other miscellaneous items that may have found their way there. If fire and emergency personnel cannot get to these areas, it makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs. If they cannot get the fire extinguished quickly and easily, it can result in further damage.

8) Hanging Items from Fire Sprinklers and Piping

It may seem convenient to hang clothing, signs or lighting from sprinkler heads positioned on walls or ceilings, but hanging anything from the sprinklers can accidentally activate them, causing costly water damage. Despite the warnings, this is still a very common violation. In any type of business, do not hang or support anything on exposed sprinkler heads or piping. Lightweight items may seem harmless to hang, but they can cause serious issues. Warnings can be added so that occupants do not try to hang anything from the fire sprinklers. Oftentimes these can be seen in hotel rooms.

9) Blocked Outdoor Fire Department Connections and Valves

When fire departments are responding to an emergency, it is essential they have clear access to the building. This fire violation is extremely dangerous because it could increase firefighter injuries, allow fires to grow larger, and slow down the rescue of people inside the building. Landscaping, equipment, pallets, or dumpsters could block exterior fire department access points and fire hydrants.

10) Not Keeping Proper Records

If you work with several different contractors to inspect, maintain, repair and replace your fire safety system, it can be a challenge to keep the paperwork organized. Be sure to keep close records of all services, maintenance and inspections as proof of your compliance with fire codes. This is crucial for not only inspections, but if you ever need to submit an insurance claim you will need to have information on hand.

Check Your Property for Fire Safety Violations Today

By checking your property for these common safety violations, you will be better prepared for safety inspections and should disaster strike. Make sure that you have a plan in place to ensure routine maintenance and inspections are performed regularly. You can find recommendations on when and how often to check these items on the OHSA website.

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