How to Prevent Warehouse Fire and Keep it Safe

Warehouses are used for exactly what their name suggests–to house wares. They are storage facilities that are full of bulk merchandise, goods, or equipment that most likely does not come cheap. As a warehouse owner, facilities manager, safety engineer, or a business who stores their goods in a warehouse for later sale, keeping this facility safe from fire is a high priority. When it comes to fire safety, you are not only protecting the building and workers at the warehouse, but the goods being stored there too. This makes warehouse fire safety an important part of managing your business. Let’s take a look at some steps to take to help prevent warehouse fires. 

The Importance of Warehouse Fire Safety

No one who owns, operates, or uses a warehouse structure wants to experience a fire in a warehouse. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), there are about 1,450 warehouse fires annually in the United States. These fires cause millions of dollars in damage and worse yet, cause both injuries and deaths each year. Practicing fire safety in warehouses can lower not only property damage, but it can save lives. Understanding warehouse fire risks, following fire safety regulations, and practicing warehouse fire safety tips can go a long way in making your warehouse a safe place to work and store goods.

Understanding Warehouse Fire Risks

Warehouse fires can be dangerous and expensive, but for the most part, they are also preventable. Understanding the risks is the first step in warehouse fire protection.

Fire safety regulations in a warehouse are covered by both local fire rules and ordinances as well as federal OSHA guidelines for fire safety. This is governed on a national level by fire safety legislation through the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974, which established rules, regulations, and guidelines that include:

  • Installing, inspecting, and maintaining an efficient fire alarm system
  • Requiring strategic placement of fire extinguishers throughout the facility
  • Making all warehouse employees trained annually in using a fire extinguisher
  • Keeping warehouses well ventilated
  • Establishing and practicing fire safety procedures
  • Understanding and adhering to fire safety rules and regulations
  • Undergoing periodic fire safety inspections and correcting any violations

Warehouse Fire Safety Tips 

The first line of defense in warehouse fire safety is prevention. Not only understanding the importance of fire prevention strategies, but knowing best how to implement them helps protect your warehouse and its contents from damage and your workers from harm. 

A Fire Safety Checklist

Developing and maintaining a fire safety checklist for your warehouse improves your warehouse fire safety because it can change with the variables present at the warehouse on a daily basis. Workers come and go, inventory changes and shifts, and daily routines fluctuate. These shifting circumstances make it vital to go beyond the rules, regulations, and standards that are required. A fire safety checklist keeps fire prevention front and center along with other safety precautions necessary to run a smooth operation.

According to the NFPA, the causes of warehouse fires range from trash or rubbish fires, ignition by electrical distribution or lighting equipment, or improperly stored combustible items. With this in mind, these areas are an especially important focus when taking preventable steps. 

Tips for Your Fire Safety Checklist

Optimize Warehouse Layout

Designate specific areas for storing specific materials and goods. Make sure these areas are not near electrical equipment or other potential sources of sparks or ignition. This is especially important for materials that are highly flammable.

Make sure that aisles, exits, and evacuation routes are clearly designated and labeled along with distinct delineation of where areas are for storing, staging, and walking. Your employees should be trained on these designations with an understanding of why they have been designed this way. Also, standardize the testing of exit signs and evacuation lights in these areas to ensure they are functioning properly. The last thing you want is for them not to work when you need them most. 

Establish Effective Storage Guidelines

The procedures and parameters that are set for safely stacking and storing materials can help prevent disasters from happening. Make sure stored goods are stacked securely. The goal is to prevent tipping or collapse, which can cause fire hazards. Also, make sure stacked storage items do not obstruct safety systems. Establish inspections to ensure all fire alarms are fully operational and not blocked by materials or equipment. You cannot pull a fire alarm you cannot reach. 

Keep It Clean

Knowing that trash or rubbish is one of the leading causes of warehouse fires means that keeping your warehouse clean is paramount. Trash accumulation can lead to more than a mess. Debris, trash, and discarded packaging needs to be properly discarded into designated trash bins and these trash bins need to be emptied regularly. Establish rules and procedures to run a clean warehouse and train your staff on this important warehouse fire safety guideline. 

Know What You Store

Know what materials are in your warehouse at all times. Keep track of what materials are flammable and train your staff to know too. Flammable liquids or gasses and hazardous materials in quantity can be a fire waiting to happen, if not stored and handled properly. Different products have different fire properties, ranging from class I, which is non-combustible to class IV, which is highly combustible. Guidelines on each class and how to handle them should be visible and available to all employees.

Institute procedures and training on how to manage the change of products stored within a warehouse is a top priority too. It is impossible to know what you have stored at any given time without it. 

Establish Effective Training Procedures

Your employees can be an asset to your warehouse fire safety practices, but this can only be true if they are properly trained. Conduct regular safety training sessions, share both the how and the why of fire safety plans, and do regular practice drills. An informed employee is a safe employee. By communicating and training your employees you make warehouse fire safety a priority and show its importance. 

Life Saving Practices

The importance of warehouse fire safety extends to keeping the lives of those who work in your facility safe too. Life safety measures include:

  • Installing, maintaining, and regularly checking fire alarm and sprinkler systems
  • Maintaining clear access to exits
  • Keeping exits at regulation width
  • Installing and maintaining fire doors and smoke control systems
  • Installing fire rated stairwells, egress lighting and emergency power 

Fire Retardant Products for Warehouse Fire Safety

Many of the fire protection and fire safety measures that help keep your warehouse safe are done at the construction phase, this includes:

  • Installing sprinkler and smoke alarm systems
  • Installing fire doors and emergency power systems
  • Planning exits, stairwells, lighting, and storage spaces with fire safety in mind

There are fire protection products on the market that can help boost your warehouse fire safety at this phase too.

Fire-resistant products, such as intumescent paints and flame-retardant coatings and sprays, can slow down the spread of fire, if one were to break out. These products can buy the needed time to put the fire out and evacuate personnel, saving both property and lives. 

Keeping Your Warehouse Safe from Fire

The success of a warehouse business and the businesses that depend on storage facilities hinges on keeping warehouses safe places to work and store goods, products, materials, and equipment. Getting your warehouse fire safety measures in place from the time of construction through to everyday operations can prevent fires from starting and spreading, keeping your warehouse safe.