FIRE! FIRE! Few things prompt such primal fear in us humans. We fear it, we spend billions of dollars to prevent it and warn us of it occurrence, but yet it still happens. Hardly a day goes by when you don?t hear about some fire destroying a home or a workplace and shattering lives and ruining jobs.

Simply put a ?fire? is just a chemical reaction. There are many variables that can affect a fire, and you often hear about the ?fire triangle?. The fire triangle is the well known description of what is need to start a fire: fuel, heat, and oxygen. Without these three conditions you cannot have a fire, unfortunately these conditions all exist in or workplaces. There is plenty of fuel in our workplaces in the form of solids (grain, paper, coal etc), in the form of gases (propane, natural gas, butane etc) and in the form of liquids ( gasoline, paint, oil etc). In fact there is no shortage of fuel in our workplaces, or our homes for that matter. Likewise there is no problem finding heat or ignition sources for that fuel, sparks, arcs, hot surfaces, electrical energy, friction, open flames, I could go on but you get the idea I am sure. Finally oxygen, well I will guarantee if you are working then there is some oxygen kicking about! A fire only needs about 16% oxygen and the air around us is actually up around 21% so there is sufficient oxygen kicking about to do its part in the fire triangle.

Now on the jobsite fire safety becomes everyone?s responsibility. Your employer should be giving you at least basic training about what to do in a fire emergency. Ideally this plan should outline the assignments of key personnel if there is a fire and provide an evacuation plan for workers on the site. This plan should be done before the start of the job. You need to decide/know what the purpose of your fire plan is, is it evacuate your people or is it to help fight the fire. 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. Many of these requirements for training, and emergency response are part of the provincial health and safety acts and these are the very minimal and basic requirements employers are required to follow.

If you are working indoors, every building has minimum fire code standards to meet that include the number of exits from the building depending on a number of factors. Make sure you know where those exits are, and more importantly keep them clear of obstructions besides the fire code, again the provincial health and safety acts step in here and tell employers that they have to have safe routes of entry and exit from buildings.

However there are some simple things that we can all do that will greatly improve our safety in terms of fire.

First of all, housekeeping! It is amazing how many times poor housekeeping has contributed not just to the cause of the fire but the potential injuries and deaths that occur during that fire. Keep your workplace clutter free and especially keep stairways storage areas, staff rooms and work areas free from debris such as empty boxes, waste paper and dirty rags. Keep flammable liquid storage to a minimum and in approved containers, in approved storage cabinets.

Be careful with appliances, turn off or unplug all appliances at the end of the workday, and allow air to circulate around heat producing equipment such as photocopiers, computers and heaters.

If you smoke, then only do so in permitted areas and use large non-tip ashtrays, and ensure that visitors to your worksite are aware of the regulations.

This is one of my little pet peeves, extension cords and power bars. I hate seeing power bars, plugged into power bars and circuits being totally overloaded. Add to that extension cords that seem to pop up like weeds running across doorways or under carpets where they will get pinched or frayed.

Everyone should have at least a basic idea of how to use a fire extinguisher safely and more importantly when to or not try using a fire extinguisher. Don?t try fighting large fires or those that may spread quickly with a fire extinguisher, it is better to leave these fires to the professionals.

Matter of fact in almost all cases it is better to leave fires to professionals and to get yourself and your coworkers out to a safe area. If you spot a fire, the very, very first thing you should do is SOUND THE ALARM! Get help coming immediately, sound that alarm. Leave the area immediately, and if indoors close all doors behind you. If there is smoke blocking your main exit, use another one, if oyu do have to exit through the smoke stay low by crawling on your hands and knees. Don?t just open doors, kneel or crouch by the door first and touch the door, the knob and the frame, if any feel warm use another escape route. If the door feels cool, open it slowly and carefully with your shoulder against it. Slam the door shut if you see flames or smoke on the other side.

One of the best ways to be safe in a fire is to have prepared before the fire. Your employer should have a fire plan posted in prominent locations and ensure that all employees are familiar with exit locations, escape routes and fire extinguisher locations. You should conduct regular fire drills and have emergency numbers posted near all telephones. You personally should make sure that you know where all the emergency exits are, and the location of the nearest fire alarm. If working indoors one useful tip is to count the number of desk between your work area and the nearest exit. During a fire, exit signs may not be visible due to smoke or a power failure.

Once away from the fire and in a safe area make sure you proceed to your designated muster point and stay out of the way of fire fighters. Stay safe and I will talk to you again next week.

Rob Mandeville is a Safety Advisor and Auditor at Action Health & Safety Services. He has his OH&S certificate from the UofA, and is currently studying for his CRSP ( Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professional) exams. If you have a question about health and safety or an idea for an article you can reach him at