Planning for a fire is key for all businesses. If your plan isn’t much more than the old “stop, drop, and roll,” you have a lot more work to do. Here’s how to protect your customers, employees, and yourself – regardless of how large or small the disaster.

Prevention First

The best offense is a good defense. Avoiding or stockpiling flammable materials like packing materials is a good idea. If you’re like most businesses, you get a lot of paper, packaging materials, and boxes. Fire loves this stuff.

Make sure all your machinery is serviced at regular intervals, and as recommended by the manufacturer. They should be kept clean and in good working order. Switch machines off, if possible, when you’re not using them.

When the business is not open, or when the office is not attended to, close and lock all windows and doors, or any other access points, and make sure there’s adequate lighting to deter would-be thieves or criminals who might damage the premises or potentially start a fire.

If your business must store flammable materials, it should do so under conditions that adhere to federal, state, and local requirements for the storage of such materials.

The Importance Of Smoke Alarms

Use smoke alarms and smoke detectors. Contact the local fire department and ask about the requirements for the building. Smoke alarms and detectors should be installed on every level of a building or office, even the basement.

They should also be tested once per month in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Batteries should be replaced every year or as soon as the alarm of smoke detector chirps – alerting you that the batteries are about the run down.

The alarms themselves should be replaced every 10 years. Even those that are hardwired for “long-life” applications should be replaced once per decade.

A qualified electrician should install all hardwired smoke detectors and alarms.

Have An Evacuation Plan

How will you and your employees get out of the building? In addition to maintaining smoke alarms and detectors, it’s essential that you develop and practice some kind of evacuation plan for you and your employees.

Draw up, or have a professional draw up, an evacuation plan for your building or office. Have employees study and practice it. Learn at least two ways out of the building, and count the number of desks or work stations between each employee’s work area and the nearest two  exists.

Ideally, there won’t be more than a few workstations between each employees desk and exit.

Even in large buildings or offices, There should be enough exists for employees to get out of the building in under 5 minutes.

Designate an outside meeting place where everyone can gather once they’ve escaped the building. Finally, practice your evac plan at least twice a year.

Check Your Sprinkler System

Have your sprinkler system checked via A common phenomenon for sprinkler systems is that they will rust or corrode – this is not good if you have a fire. Having it checked and treated at least once a year will minimize the risk that your sprinkler system will fail when you need it.

Have Fire Extinguishers

A fire extinguisher is a backup for the sprinkler system. But, it’s still important to have one. Make sure there are enough extinguishers placed around the office to allow employees to clear a path out of the building, if they need to. Extinguishers aren’t so useful for combating large fires. They are really meant for small fires.

Even so, unless your employees have taken classes on how to fight fires, they should concern themselves primarily with being able to use the extinguisher to get themselves to safety. Every employee should be trained at least twice a year on how to use a fire extinguisher, and where they are located.

A “live drill” might also be helpful so that employees know the feel of an extinguisher before they have to use it. Coordinate such drills with the local fire department.

Make Contingency Plans

You should know what information is important for your company’s continued operation. Do you have insurance, or a cash reserve, that will keep the doors open if your building catches on fire, or if there’s extensive smoke damage?

If not, consider picking up an insurance policy that will protect you, your employees, and your business.

Have a contingency plan for sensitive data. Usually, this means keeping at least some of your company’s sensitive information off-site, backed up on third-party servers that are encrypted and physically secured in a state-of-the-art facility using biometric locks and armed security guards.

Raymond Terry has extensive as a business safety consultant. He started off in this role as a government contractor and now works as an independent consultant. His articles mainly appear on business blogs.