A Short Guide to Conducting a Fire Drill at Work

by Laura C. Jones

The US working population is already intimately familiar with the concept of the fire drill. It is the inconvenient procedure that unfailingly pulls workers from their desks at a crucial point in their working day, forming a frustrating impediment to productivity. But the fire drill is much more than a brief inconvenience.

Proper fire drill procedures are truly the difference between life and death for staff in the event of a catastrophic incident. It is crucial that the workforce of physical premises understand the procedure for safely leaving their building in the event of a fire; uncoordinated exits can lead to unnecessary casualties.

An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is nothing short of a necessity for businesses, but ensuring employee understanding and compliance is more complicated than including a draft EAP in their employee documentation. While the US does not have any overarching laws requiring the performance of regular evacuation drills, there are state laws and industry-specific standards that may set an equivalent requirement.

Either way, it is sensible – and indeed recommended – for a business to conduct fire drills every three months to ensure employee preparedness. But for the new business or the new designated fire safety officer with little experience, what makes an effective fire drill program?

Designing an Evacuation Procedure

First and foremost, the evacuation procedure included in your business’ wider EAP should be re-evaluated for effectiveness and suitability. Evacuation procedures are necessarily tailored to the specifics of your physical premises, including the various unique hazards it might present.

The essential goal of your evacuation plan is to safely transfer every member of staff to pre-agreed muster points some distance from the building. Different areas of the building may have different safe exit points, necessitating a multi-pronged approach to evacuation. Contingencies need to be drawn up for the possibility of blocked paths and exits.

Training and Communication

With a robust fire evacuation plan drawn up and signed off, you are now in a position to progress with drills that communicate its effectiveness. Firstly, you will need to sign your evacuation plan – and plan for semi-regular whole-building drills – off with executive management.

Next, you will need to notify designated building maintenance officials and department heads of your intentions – and of your first proposed date for a drill. The building will already be fitted with a fire alarm system; maintenance engineers will be able to trigger the alarm horns at your chosen time for the drill, to effect a real evacuation.

Lastly, your new evacuation plan will need to be communicated to all members of staff, so that everyone has a rough idea of what to follow in the event of an alarm sounding. This can be done with a company-wide message, but may be more effectively achieved with in-person training.

Semi-Regular Drill Tests

All that remains is to conduct the drill. Notifying individual staff members ahead of the drill can be counter-intuitive, where a lack of urgency can breed complacency. For successive drills, new obstacles should be introduced to ‘block’ exits and force a new route to be practiced.

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