For commercial business owners, few things are more frightening than the thought of a fire ripping through their workplace. The potential loss of business and damage to property pales in comparison to the risk of losing lives.
Most workplace fires can be avoided if the right precautions are taken. But if a fire does occur, a fire safety plan can minimize the impact, as it identifies specific actions that should be taken. Not only is a fire safety plan essential to help keep people safe, it’s also the law in many cases. In Canada, fire safety plans are required by provincial regulations and local fire codes for certain types of buildings and occupancy types.1
While plans should be tailored to the specific property or business, generally they must detail: a safe and orderly way for occupants to evacuate the building; proper maintenance and housekeeping required to prevent fires; and how to minimize damage should a fire occur. Typically, owners have to submit their plan to their local fire department for review and approval.2
There’s no time like the present to brush up on your current fire safety plan, or familiarize yourself with the essentials if you need to create one. To that end, here are some key requirements and best practices to help ensure your people and your business are protected.
Regularly train employees on emergency procedures: Your employees must be aware of what to do in a variety of fire emergencies. Staff training should include instruction on: where the fire alarm pull stations and exits are located; procedures for sounding the alarm; how to alert the fire department; potential fire hazards; how to use portable fire extinguishers; procedures for evacuating the building quickly and safely; and where the exits and muster points (or meeting places) are located. In addition to instructing new hires, be sure to retrain existing staff at least annually.3
Appoint fire wardens: Designated fire wardens are specially trained volunteer employees who help implement the fire safety plan. Fire wardens’ responsibilities include instructing employees on emergency procedures; checking safety equipment, such as extinguishers and exit doors; alerting authorities in the event of a fire; helping people evacuate quickly and safely; and more. There should be one fire warden for each floor or area (or more to cover absences).4
Install highly visible signs: While your employees may be trained on what to do in the event of a fire, they’ll likely need visual cues to orient themselves in an actual emergency. Fire safety plans require evacuation diagrams that highlight exits, directional areas, pull stations and more. Diagrams must be permanently affixed to the wall near elevators and exits.5 Inspection and testing of exit signs and emergency lighting should be performed and documented annually.
Other signage tips are: ensure exits and other evacuation signs are large enough to be seen from a distance, and illuminated so they can easily be seen in a power outage.6 Avoid displaying too many signs in close proximity, as this can increase the chance of confusion and vital information being overlooked. In addition, post warning signs to remind people to take precautions around hazardous areas of your workplace.7
Practice, review, and revise: Fire drills put your fire safety plan into action, ensuring that your employees are familiar with what to do and can evacuate in an orderly fashion. Fire drills should be conducted at least twice a year (or as required by your local jurisdiction). The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends observing the response to fire drills and adjusting the plan as necessary to ensure its effectiveness.8
Aside from fire drills, your fire safety plan as a whole should be reviewed every year, especially if there are any changes to the layout, content or headcount of your workplace. If there are any changes to your plan, you must notify your local fire department.9 Reviewing and revising your plan will not only help you be prepared in the event of an emergency, it will give everyone in your workplace peace of mind.
1,2,8 Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Fire Protection”
3,9 Brantford Fire Department, “Standard Template for Fire Safety Plan Development”
4 Fire Monitoring of Canada Inc., “The importance of designating a fire warden in your office”
5 Township of Muskoka Lakes Fire Department, “Guidelines to Developing a Fire Safety Plan”
6 ProFire Safety Services, “How to plan a fire evacuation plan for your business,” July 3, 2022
7 Glendining Signs, “Health safety signs in the workplace”