Drilling in Safety
Department of Quality & Safety/Safety Office
U.S. Army Medical Command
William Beaumont Army Medical Center
El Paso, Texas
Most of us likely remember hearing a series of bells or some other type of audible device while in grade school signaling a fire drill. I recall hoping the drill would lead to an unplanned recess and enjoyed getting a break from our classwork. At the time, I did not understand the importance of these drills in preparing me and my classmates on how to react to an emergency. Unknowingly, it created an environment that assisted our teachers and emergency responders in ensuring everyone made it out of the building safely and quickly.
Many years have passed since my elementary school days, and I now find myself in a safety specialist position in a healthcare setting. As part of our duties in the safety office, we are responsible for scheduling and accomplishing fire drills throughout the year within our numerous healthcare facilities. I have learned that the saying “use it or lose it” rings true for how we react to fire drills as adults.
Sadly, I have witnessed with my own eyes a vast majority of employees give the deer-in-headlights look when asked to respond to a fictional fire. They have no idea where fire extinguishers are, where fire pull handles are located (near the exits) or even where alternate exits are located. This is pretty unnerving and quite scary for a safety professional! All too often workers are killed or seriously injured by a fire or explosion in the workplace. Educating workers on fire safety and exit procedures during a fire drill allows them to practice and fully understand vital response activities.
Fire drills assist employees in awareness of the locations of important elements within their workplace, such as the location of fire pull handles and alternate exits. Activating a fire pull handle notifies co-workers and emergency responders of an emergency situation. Knowing where all exits and egress points are located is important in the event an evacuation is necessary or if an exit is blocked.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) designates a week each October to remind us all of the importance of fire safety. Fire Prevention Week for 2019 is Oct. 6-12 and themed “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape.” Information from this year’s Fire Prevention Week is geared toward empowering everyone to be aware of fire safety. Awareness of fire safety at home and in general enhances fire safety in our workplaces.
Employee engagement and ownership of safety within the workplace is essential to responding correctly to emergency situations. The next time you hear a fire alarm at work or at home, react as if it were a real-world incident. Never assume others will react for you. For more information on workplace fire safety, visit NFPA’s website at https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Staying-safe/Preparedness/Fire-Prevention-Week.
How Do I Get Out of Here?
WORKPLACE SAFETY DIVISION
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
We see exit signs inside buildings all the time, but many of us don’t give them a second thought. If there was a fire or other emergency and you had to make a quick exit from a building, would you know where to go?
Creating an emergency exit strategy probably isn’t at the top of your to-do list. Yet, every day, people lose their lives because they’re unable to get out of a burning structure. As you look around your home or office, you might think that you wouldn’t have any problem finding your way to safety. But what if your normal exit is blocked by flames? What happens if you become disoriented in the heavy smoke? Will you still be able to make it out of this situation alive?
Exiting a burning building can even challenge those who fight fires for a living. In Worcester, Massachusetts, two firefighters who responded to a warehouse fire became disoriented while searching the building for homeless people. Two additional teams of firefighters entered the building to conduct a search and rescue of the first team, but they, too, became lost inside the maze of doors, hallways and windowless rooms.
All six firefighters died in this fire. Think about that. Six highly trained, career firefighters who fully understood the nature of the situation were unable to exit a building they had entered just minutes earlier. If it happened to them, you better believe that it could happen to you.
Consider all the places you visit throughout the day — the office, supermarket, warehouse supercenters, hotels, restaurants and motor pools. Do you always know where to find the closest exit? Do you know of an alternate exit if your first choice is too crowded or blocked?
How long would it take you to find an emergency exit when you’re in a state of panic inside a room full of smoke and desperately gasping for air? Would it take 15 seconds? How about 30 seconds? Longer? Next time you’re in one of these places, see if you can locate an exit sign. Remember, every second counts in an emergency and every hesitation reduces your chance of survival.
There are a variety of regulatory requirements for the design and construction of exit routes, doors, stairs and lighting and multiple actions we can all take to ensure the components of an exit route are maintained and operational, including:
- Ensure exit routes are free and unobstructed by materials, equipment, locked doors or dead-end corridors.
- Keep exit routes free of explosives or highly flammable furnishings and other decorations (i.e., don’t store a flammable cabinet in an exit hallway or next the door).
- Arrange exit routes so employees will not have to travel toward a high-hazard area unless the path of travel is effectively shielded.
- Maintain exit routes during construction, repairs or alterations.
- Mark doors or passages along an exit access that could be mistaken for an exit as “Not an Exit” or with a sign identifying its use, such as “Closet.”
- Keep exit route doors free of decorations or signs that obscure their visibility.
- Ensure emergency exit doors are unlocked when the building is occupied and panic bars operate properly.
Exit lighting and signage
- Provide adequate lighting for exit routes.
- Post signs along the exit access indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit, especially if that direction is not immediately apparent.
- Perform monthly and annual tests on emergency lights and exit signs.
When time is critical, you don’t want to waste it searching for the nearest exit. Have a plan in place. When disaster strikes, don’t get stuck yelling, “How do I get out of here?”