Sparked in an overstuffed rag bin, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City killed 145 workers in just 18 minutes. Multiple factors led to one of the deadliest business disasters in North American history – among them, firefighting ladders could not reach the eighth-floor blaze – but the building itself violated many of today’s fire codes. In fact, the structure either did not have or flouted eight of the 10 violations listed below. 

Fortunately, the disaster ushered in a new era of fire safety, giving rise to modern day fire codes and mandatory safety inspections. Bruce Powell, Paul Davis Health and Safety Officer, frequently advises customers about maintaining fire safety in commercial buildings. “The best way to ensure your property passes muster with local fire departments and emergency personnel,” Powell recommends, “is to take a walk before the inspector visits to look for problems.” Ensure your building does not have the 10 most common violations:

  1. Exit doors aren’t accessible and operational. All exit doors must enable occupants to escape quickly and easily in an emergency or drill.
  2. Emergency lighting – exit signs, stairwell lighting – doesn’t work properly.
  3. Aisles, stairways and walkways aren’t clear and easy to navigate.
  4. Outlets, electrical panels and junction boxes aren’t properly covered with UL-listed plates. Many commercial building fires stem from worn and faulty electrical wiring.
  5. Fire alarm systems have not been professionally maintained and tested as required by your municipality.
  6. Extension cords are in long-term use in areas lacking installed electrical outlets.
  7. Fire extinguishers aren’t present, working properly, easily accessible and certified as appropriate for activity type. A very common oversight: expired fire extinguishers.
  8. Sprinkler systems haven’t been professionally serviced as recommended by your municipality and the systems’ manufacturers.
  9. Hazardous and/or flammable materials aren’t properly stored.
  10. Outside areas aren’t properly maintained and contain trash, debris, high grass and weeds.

Even if the inspector isn’t due, take a moment to survey your fire safety measures. It just might save your business. Experts estimate that nearly half of companies that experience a fire never reopen. And that frightening statistic fails to account for the injuries and economic distress that fires inflict on employees. 

If your commercial building experiences a fire despite your best efforts at fire code compliance, Paul Davis promises to arrive on the scene within three hours of a call for help.