Workplace Solutions Emergency response planning Training

Fire safety training

I am responsible for training my company’s employees on fire safety. Should I tailor my training to each job function? If yes, how? For example, should I train a shop floor employee and a receptionist differently?

Responding is Ryan O’Donnell, president, BullEx, Albany, NY.

As with all other job training, fire safety should be tailored to each employee’s job function. When designing your training programs, ask yourself where each employee is located in your building and what fire hazards they come in contact with each day.

One thing that should remain constant among your employees is the combination of classroom and hands-on training. Classroom training is essential to educate employees about the basics of fire safety before giving them the chance to cement that knowledge with the muscle memory of hands-on training.

Classroom training for employees should include a review of sources of fire, especially the unique hazards present in your work environment. Additional information should include the alerting procedure, classes of fire and their corresponding extinguishers, how to identify an extinguisher, how to assess a fire situation, and fire emergency and evacuation protocols.

Once the employees have demonstrated a working understanding of these basics, you should cement their knowledge with actual practice.

The National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors reports that individuals who have received training are 250 percent more effective in extinguishing fires than those who are unfamiliar with fire extinguishers.

As employees may be exposed to different classes of fire depending on their location in the building, you may want to emphasize electrical fire training for some employees, or Class A fires with others.

Another way to differentiate your training is to train employees in the locations where emergencies may really exist. If you have access to a fire extinguisher trainer that can be used indoors, you can train on the production floor, conference room, break room or any other hazardous location. You may also want to contact your local fire department to see if they have access to such a system, or a “fire safety trailer” that can show common kitchen and workplace hazards.

Re-creating an entire emergency scenario is an invaluable resource to your employees. Have them discover a simulated fire near their workstation, give the proper notification, find the nearest extinguisher (where a training extinguisher has been placed near the actual extinguisher location), decide whether to fight the fire or evacuate, and if deciding to use the extinguisher, use the proper technique. Practicing the entire timeline of the emergency scenario will be useful should real danger arise.

The key to a successful fire safety program is to adequately prepare employees to face real hazards in the workplace. An office employee who only learns about shop floor procedures will not be invested in learning, and therefore will not absorb nearly as much of the information. Conversely, an employee with a more hazardous job will not concern himself with burnt popcorn in a cafeteria microwave. Your job is to engage your employees by making their training as realistic as possible – from the training methods to the locations and scenarios.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.