Reducing the risk of a fire at your business is one of the most important things you can do to help protect your customers, employees and property. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that more than 116,500 nonresidential building fires occurred in 2021. Those fires caused 1,025 injuries and almost $3.7 billion in damages.

The Unseen Costs

For business owners, these damages can be more costly than physical repairs. It could mean weeks, or even months, of impaired operations while your property is restored. Factors such as loss of productivity, litigation and damage to brand reputation can have far-reaching effects that are difficult to anticipate. When a fire results in injuries, the human cost is incalculable.

So, what steps can you take to help ensure a crisis like this doesn’t happen at your business? Give these four tips a try:

1. Check potential fire hazards.

According to the American Red Cross, there are a number of common hazards in any home or business that are likely to be the source of a fire. Conduct a survey of your business and examine these potential problem areas:

  • Make sure machines and equipment are clean and well-maintained.
  • Keep any combustible objects away from space heaters or furnaces.
  • Properly store flammables in cabinets and away from ignition sources.
  • Check appliance cords and replace any broken connectors or cracked insulation.
  • Use only one extension cord for each power outlet.
  • Allow room behind any appliances to allow air to circulate and prevent overheating.

2. Ensure you have the proper safety equipment.

Every business should have functioning fire extinguishers, but it’s also wise to consider smoke detectors, sprinklers or a fire alarm. Remember, the life expectancy of a smoke detector is only 8-10 years.

Look into a specialized fire suppression system if your business has large operations or machinery that is capable of overheating, commercial cooking equipment or especially flammable materials onsite.

3. Make sure your equipment is up to date.

Did you know that fire extinguishers have a shelf life of 5-15 years – even if there is no expiration date listed? Over time, these devices can lose their pressure, so make sure your extinguisher is working properly by checking the pressure gauge every month. If the needle is in the yellow or red section, it may need to be repaired or replaced.

Be sure to replace your extinguisher if you notice any of these signs:

  • The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped or jammed.
  • The locking pin is unsealed or missing.
  • The handle is missing or unsteady.
  • The inspection sticker or service record is missing.

4. Communicate with your staff.

To ensure the safety of your employees, regularly and reliably communicate your fire safety procedures. This is especially important when a portion of your staff is not regularly on-premises, such as in a hybrid work model where some employees work from home.

  • Provide a clear and easily accessible emergency protocol — one that not only accommodates employees with disabilities, but those who may not be in the office on a consistent basis.
  • Keep both on-premises and remote employees up to date with the protocol by regularly using electronic and hard-copy questionnaires, quizzes and sign-off acknowledgments.
  • Describe evacuation routes with maps that can be referenced physically and digitally embedded in electronic communications.
  • Explain how emergency notifications will be delivered, whether it’s through voice communication or a sound like a bell, whistle or horn.
  • Make sure your evacuation plans accommodate employees with disabilities, such as someone with hearing loss or who uses a wheelchair.
  • Provide training, such as fire drills, to practice your emergency plan and make use of videos wherever possible to keep remote employees up to date for those times they are in the office.
  • Remind your employees not to store anything on stairways or along your fire escape routes.

Be Prepared

As a business owner, you expect your insurance to be there when things go wrong. But did you know that Erie Insurance is here to help you identify these risks in the first place?