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The Number and Causes of Office Fires

Every year, office fires cause over a hundred million dollars in property damage and several deaths. As much as the idea of wasted money and destroyed capital, we mourn the loss of even one person’s life infinitely more. Evacusafe US is dedicated to the mission of keeping everyone safe, especially those who are mobility impaired. As we work to provide every office in America with the safety equipment they need to keep their staff safe, we also want to help everyone reduce their need to actually use it. The more we all know about what causes office fires, the more we can do to prevent them. Strive for the best; prepare for the worst.

Number of Fires

From 2007-2017, there were an average of 3,340 fires in office buildings each year. That’s almost 10 every day. And it represents tens if not hundreds of thousands of employees. Any fire is a dangerous event so every fire should be taken very seriously. That means no matter the size of the fire, everyone needs to get out of the building safely and quickly. For those with mobility issues, this can be a moment of panic and danger. It’s very easy to head straight for the exit, forgetting that the person in the office next to you is in a wheelchair. And even if you do remember, do you have the equipment you need to get them out of the building without the help of an elevator?

According to the 2010 US Census, 30.6 million Americans have a disability that makes it difficult for them to walk or climb stairs. That’s just shy of 10%, which means that if the average office building has just 50 employees, 16,700 Americans needed assistance getting out of harm’s way. We would love to see every building outfitted with the proper safety equipment to ensure that every single one of them got out safely and efficiently.

Leading Causes of Fires in Offices

Most fires are caused by just a few different factors. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of four office fires were caused by just one of six things:

  • Cooking Equipment: 29%
  • Electrical Distribution & Lighting Equipment: 12%
  • Heating Equipment: 11%
  • Arson: 10%
  • Smoking Materials: 9%
  • Exposure: 4%
  • Electronic, Office, or Entertainment Equipment: 3%

Armed with this information, we hope you will have greater insight into your office risk factors and can take some necessary precautions to lower the risk of fire, thereby lowering the risk of injury or death in the event of a fire. Let’s take a look at these causes individually and review what can be done to make them safer.

Cooking Equipment

As the leading cause of office fires, cooking equipment is the most logical starting place. 29% of offices fires are caused by cooking equipment and 22% of fires start in the kitchen or cooking area. Hot plates, toaster ovens, or even traditional ovens use powerful heating elements to cook food, and when left unattended, or used improperly, can cause food to burn, and then set fire to the appliance and surrounding area. While you may have experience using these types of appliances, not everyone does. Plus, cooking in an office environment is much different than cooking at home. It’s all to easy to get distracted when your boss calls you over, leaving your pastry in the toaster, and forgetting about it after being assigned a new urgent task. And it’s just as easy to get caught up talking to a co-worker, forgetting that your hotplate is still on when you leave the room. The best way to improve the safe use of cooking equipment and the kitchen area in general is training.

  • When new employees begin work, make sure that your orientation includes the kitchen so that you can cover safe use of the cooking equipment.
  • You can also display signs with instructions on the proper use of each appliance.
  • It is a good idea to keep the kitchen area clear of distractions like TVs so that employees can focus on what they’re doing.
  • Eliminate hot plates or other equipment with exposed heating elements.

By following these tips, you can improve the safe use of kitchen equipment and lower your risk of any associated fires.

Electrical Distribution & Lighting Equipment

The next most frequent cause of office fires includes electrical distribution and lighting equipment. This can be broken down further into bad wiring, bulbs, power supplies, and the misuse of cords or plugs. Older buildings or buildings that have undergone multiple renovations are at increased risk of bad wiring because building and safety codes change over time. What was once considered safe may no longer be up to code, and when making changes to a building’s wiring, contractors may not always know the implications of their work. But most employees don’t deal with what’s behind the drywall, so promoting safe use of electrical plugs, extension cords, and other power supplies are also important. Remember when Ralphie’s dad plugged one too many strings of lights into the outlet? It can overload the circuit and cause problems that you can’t detect until it’s too late. The best way to lower your risk of electrical fires include hiring only licensed, highly qualified contractors and training your staff on the proper use of all outward facing electrical equipment.

  • When renovating a space, or moving into a new space, first have the electrical system thoroughly inspected by a licensed, highly-experienced electrician who can tell you if there are any underlying issues that need to be corrected.
  • Never make any modifications to your office wiring on your own, even if Jeff from Accounting is pretty handy.
  • Train office employees on the proper use of extension cords and surge protectors and regular monitor the office space to make sure cords are not damaged or at risk of being damaged.
  • Only use the proper bulbs for lighting fixtures and have them installed by a qualified professional.

Heating Equipment

The third leading cause of office fires is heating equipment. Whether it’s the central heating unit, space heaters, water heaters, or the residue buildup in the chimney, heating equipment can cause a lot of damage if not properly used or maintained. As a rule, we would discourage the use of any space heaters for the simple reason that they contain an exposed heating element. Even with the best of intentions, they can be forgotten or knocked over carelessly and cause a big problem, fast. As with the other factors, the best way to reduce your risk of fire is to regularly maintain and inspect equipment and train staff on the proper use of any consumer products.

  • Have central heating furnaces, hot water heaters, space heaters, and chimneys regularly inspected and maintained by licensed, highly-experienced contractors who can identify and resolve issues before they cause a fire.
  • Minimize the use of portable or exposed space heaters. If you can’t ban them entirely, train employees in their proper use and require clear visibility to reduce the chance that staff leave them on, unattended.

By taking some of these risk factors into consideration when training employees and establishing office regulations, you can do your part to reduce the risk of fire. We look forward to the day when there are no more office fires. But until that day, we’ll do what we can to help you reduce the risk of fire, and provide the safety equipment to help your mobility-impaired employees get to safety if a fire does occur.