Fire and life safety risks affect virtually every human services organization. The hazards and challenges related to such risks can be wide ranging and, consequently, can impact how your organization is evaluated from an insurance underwriting and loss control standpoint. How well does your organization assess its fire and life safety exposures, and address them from a risk management perspective?
Significant Factors and Variables
While numerous factors and variables can impact the underwriting and loss control evaluation of your organization’s risk of loss (both from a first party and third party loss context), certain fire hazards and related life safety exposures are significant ones, such as:
- Building Age: Older buildings may have older, less fire retardant, and more failureprone construction materials, electrical and mechanical systems, and evacuation efficiencies. Because these factors can influence fire ignition and life safety response risks, it’s important that these be addressed with frequent inspections, maintenance, and required or suggested updates. Not doing so can lead to greater risk of loss.
- Occupancy: Certain tenancy and user occupancies can raise fire and life safety risks. For example, residential occupancies often have greater tenant smoking and cooking risks; and sheltered workshop or supported employment activities may have higher machining and processing risks. Early detection, prevention and suppression, and appropriate evacuation plans can be very important to reducing certain occupancy-related risks of fire loss.
- Combustible Loading: Interior finishes, furniture, stock, chemicals, and numerous other elements can fuel the ignition source, spread fire, and impede effective life safety responses. As such, occupying spaces (or buildings) with more combustible construction materials (e.g., wood frame versus concrete structures) and contents can raise your fire risk. Consider how to potentially reduce the concentration and volatility of such risks.
Consider also that a building – and its related occupancy and combustible loading – may undergo numerous changes or alterations during its lifespan that could impact critical fire-related components and exposures. Consequently, we encourage you to make sure that periodic and appropriate fire and related life safety protection system inspection, testing, and maintenance occur through qualified resources in buildings your organization owns or occupies.
Life Safety Issues
In addition to considering your organization’s exposure to its own monetary or asset losses as a result of a fire, you should also consider its exposure to losses from liability risks if it does not provide due care to third parties in protecting them from or in responding to a fire. As you do so, recognize the importance of “life safety.”
Devastating injuries and loss of life certainly can occur with fires. As such, your organization should not only know how to appropriately alert its clients, volunteers, and staff about a fire in a building, but also how to get everyone out of that building timely and safely if a fire occurs. This is particularly critical if your organization has residential or other buildings where assemblies of people may gather.
If it hasn’t already been done, we encourage your organization to adopt a “Life Safety Plan” with respect to fires (and other perils). While such a plan may be initially complicated and time-consuming to develop and implement, in the long term it can prove highly valuable. For example, it can often help improve your organization’s general risk management program, as well as specific risk management objectives related to the:
- Identification and modification of simple or complex systems designed to detect and extinguish fires, such as integrated fire alarm and sprinkler systems
- Creation and documentation of fire protection and emergency lighting systems inspection, testing, and maintenance protocols by qualified resources
- Evaluation and adaptation of appropriate evacuation policies, plans, and procedures due to fire that may impact your organization’s staff, volunteers, and clients
Think of your organization’s Life Safety Plan as a valuable tool that: (1) is well-understood, periodically tested and maintained, and frequently revised to reflect changes in your organization; (2) may help improve or reduce your organization’s risk exposures; and (3) can enhance, ultimately, your organization’s mission and save lives.
Common Fire Hazards
Finally, your organization should consider undertaking activities to help prevent fires and mitigate the risk of loss of life and property due to fires. Identifying, understanding, and training to reduce (if not eliminate) these more common fire and related life safety hazards may be crucial:
- Improper use of extension cords and power strips
- Dated or overloaded existing electrical circuits
- Poor or excessive storage of flammable, or combustible materials and chemicals
- Chocked, obstructed, or inoperable fire door assemblies
- Obstructions in corridors as part of evacuation paths
- Inappropriate electrical wiring modifications by unlicensed persons
- Unattended or improvised appliances, such as space heaters and cooking sources
- Incorrect use of hardware and deadbolt locks on exit doors
Although the list above is not exhaustive, looking for and providing appropriate solutions to these hazards may improve your organization’s overall fire risk profile.
Additional resources on this and other risk management subjects are available to insureds through our Human Services Program. Visit our website at www.berkleyhumanservices.com/risk-control, or contact our Risks Control Department at 612-766-3100 or [email protected].Suggestions and comments contained herein are provided for purposes of general education only. Suggestions and comments are not intended for the purpose of providing you with legal advice or legal counsel, and are not intended to assure compliance with or complete analysis of any law, rule or regulation. In addition, suggestions and comments should not be interpreted to imply or infer that all exposures, hazards or loss potentials on any subject or issue were identified or considered. No warranty, or guaranty of accuracy, fitness or suitability, express or implied, is granted with respect to any of the information contained herein.