Awards & Events

Safety Council Focuses on Fire Safety in Workplace

STRUTHERS, Ohio – In recognition of National Fire Prevention Month, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Mahoning Valley Safety Council continued its monthly series of educational seminars with one on fire safety in the workplace.

Howland Township Fire Chief James Pantalone was guest speaker at Wednesday’s seminar at The Embassy on Youngstown-Poland Road. Pantalone discussed what to do and where to go in the event of a workplace fire, and offered tips on how to prevent fires in the first place.

“Fire safety is such a broad subject, and bringing it into the workplace I wanted to look at what the causes of fire are and what are simple things that businesses can do to prevent those and limit their liability. I want to just bring out simple ideas and simple concepts,” Pantalone said.

Statistics show that industrial and manufacturing facilities carry the greatest risk for fire hazards, he said. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 37,000 fires at properties each year, injuring 237 civilians and doing $1.2 billion in property damage. Electrical distribution and lighting equipment accounts for 24% of the leading causes of fires in the industrial field, he said, while heating systems make up 15% of the total causes of fires in manufacturing plants.

The top five causes of workplace fires are faulty electrics, flammable materials, human error, general negligence and arson, he said.

Loose wires, too many electrical cords and old equipment are easy ways to ignite flames, Pantalone said. He recommended using power strips to handle lots of cords and plugs, and never tuck the cords under any carpets or behind tight surfaces. He also said to watch out for loose outlets and be sure not to use them if they are not secured.

“If I was returning back to my business today, what I would look at is use of extension cords and making sure they are only for temporary use, use of power strips for multiple accessories,” he said. “And anytime you’re doing work or having work done at your business, you want to hire a reputable contractor.”

When items that are easily flammable are stored or handled improperly, the situation can become extremely dangerous, warned the fire chief. He said that all combustible materials should be stored in solid cabinets and fuel containers must be stored in appropriate containers.

Human error and negligence often lead to accidents, such as knocking over liquids or refilling a generator without turning it off first. Pantalone said that this is often dealt with every day in the workplace and that everyone should try and pay more attention to what they are doing when dealing with flammable materials or liquids.

General negligence involves ignorance of company policies and practices that are already set in place for fire safety. Not marking flammable containers and stacking items beyond the reach of the fire sprinkler are two examples of negligence in the work place, as is not wearing protective clothing, he said.

Arson is not as uncommon as one might think, he said. Establishing an incident action plan and training employees on situational awareness can help save lives in the event of a fire caused by someone in the workplace. These types of fires can spread the quickest, so a solid plan of action is a must, he said. Businesses should promote a “thinking” workplace environment and utilize a simple policy of checks and balances. Policies should be kept simple and short so that they can be remembered in the event of an emergency.

Some other tips that the chief covered were to not overload circuits, use only Underwriters Laboratories, or UL-listed equipment, evaluate environmental impacts, and have easy access to Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDS in the building. Business owners should implement a solid training program and develop an employee buy-in and belief atmosphere to encourage a culture of safety, he said.

Pantalone stressed the importance of an annual state-certified inspection, where the fire chief will walk through a checklist with the business owner and affirm that they are following all of the fire safety protocols. Inspections also give the fire department a chance to review the blueprint of the building, assist with developing an escape plan and build a relationship with the company, he said.

Mary Beth Wyko, special events manager for the Regional Chamber, said that October, being that it’s fire safety month, was the best month to provide education on these important safety practices.

“We want to see our businesses succeed and obviously having a fire at the workplace is an extremely disruptive event,” Wyko said. “So if we can help in some small way to prevent that from happening at one of our businesses in the area, that’s a good thing.”

Pictured: Howland Township Fire Department Chief James Pantalone addressed those gathered at Mahoning Valley Safety Council’s seminar on fire safety in the workplace.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.