There are over 200 hospital fires every year in the United States. Although the majority of these occur in the Operating Room areas, laboratory fires can and do occur. Every October I like to talk about fire safety in the lab in conjunction with National Fire Safety Month. You should have a solid fire safety program in your laboratory and all employees should be involved in that.
In April of 2014, the College of American Pathologists (CAP) changed the General Checklist requirement (Gen.75400) for all lab staff to participate in a fire exit drill every year. If you have been performing these drills successfully with your staff, I urge you to continue with that process. The CAP requirement states that employees must be “instructed on use and response to fire alarms” and that “physical evaluation of the escape routes must be performed annually, to ensure that fire exit corridors and stairwells are clear and that all fire exit doors open properly.” One easy way to accomplish this is to continue to involve staff in fire exit drills. Another advantage of having that practice is that if there is a real fire event, staff will be more adept with the evacuation process.
When I walk lab staff to their designated evacuation location, I take one or two people at a time. I walk both the primary escape route and one secondary route. While walking, I discuss the importance of meeting at the designated muster point no matter where in the building staff may be when an evacuation is necessary- that way no one sends in a rescue worker unnecessarily. The documentation of these drills will satisfy the requirements of the revised CAP regulation.
The CAP regulations also “strongly recommend” that staff who may be required to operate fire extinguishers in the event of a fire is trained via actually operating the extinguishers. OSHA also requires this for employers who provide fire-fighting equipment. While the frequency of this hands-on training is not defined, I recommend providing that at least annually so all users are proficient in the use of the fire extinguishers. This training can be performed with a simulator or with actual extinguishers if you can get permisiion to discharge them from your facility or local fire authority.
Because of the national push to raise fire safety awareness in October, it is a good month to talk about fire safety with your laboratory staff, and to provide the annual training they need in order to skillfully and calmly deal with a real fire emergency.