Fire and electricity pose distinct hazards in nearly any workplace. The threats come in many forms – a malfunctioning fuse box, a flammable gas, a burn-inducing chemical, a cigarette in the wastebasket. Employers must take careful precaution to protect their employees, including marking every potential source of injury with safety signs and training workers on what to do in case of emergency.
The National Fire Prevention Agency is the entity that regulates how organizations prevent these types of injuries, along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The NFPA releases a range of codes spanning from the basic Fire Code (NFPA 1) and the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70) to more obscure but still necessary guidelines like the Standard for Drycleaning Plants (NFPA 32). All of these codes examine specific threats and lay out the precautions required for a safe workplace, but there are a few common threads that run through each of the standards. Here are three of the most prevalent themes found throughout the NFPA codes.
1. Proper labeling
No matter the hazard, organizations must use compliant signs and labels to alert employees of potential danger. These are the first warning signals that tell workers to use caution or avoid an area or material altogether. Labels run the gamut from fire extinguisher signs to hazmat signs or even accident prevention tags. Meanwhile, bilingual signs help employees for whom English is a second language react to hazards faster than they might otherwise. The NFPA and OSHA both require specific signage where flammable or conductive materials are involved.
"A safe workplace requires a culture of safety, not just the infrastructure."
2. Personal protective equipment
If signs warn about the possibility of danger, PPE is there to mitigate the effects of a hazard should an accident occur. There are several levels of PPE that the NFPA recognizes in its various codes. Depending on the severity of the threat, PPE may need to be more robust. However, the NFPA and OSHA acknowledge that while protective gear is crucial – and potentially life-saving – it does not give the wearer free reign to ignore signs and disregard training. Even with high-quality protection, certain materials or events can still cause injury.
Employers cannot simply put up signs, hand out goggles and claim their workers are out of harm's way. A safe workplace requires a culture of safety, not just the infrastructure. That means employees must receive training on how to handle hazardous materials or dangerous situations and what to do in case of an emergency. In some cases, they must also be provided the chance to gain certification in CPR, emergency response, AED or similar skills. The NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace requires employers to reassess these certifications on a yearly basis.
These three themes are certainly not the only requirements from the NFPA or OSHA regarding fire, electrical and chemical safety. Each NFPA code is too detailed to summarize here, so employers should reference the specific guide to learn more about the right and wrong ways to secure the workplace. OSHA also provides resources on electrical hazards and standards employers should be aware of. With that said, managers should expect these three facets will be required in some way, shape or form.