The Seminole County Fire Department and state fire marshal are currently investigating a two-alarm fire that destroyed a faux wood manufacturing warehouse in Sanford, Florida early Sunday morning.
Although no workers or fire responders were harmed by the blaze, the fire caused over $100,000 in damage to the Fatezzi Wood warehouse, according to News 6. The 20,000 square foot warehouse sustained smoke and water damage, and half of the building was destroyed by the flames.
The cause of the fire, as well as where the fire started in the warehouse, remains unknown.
Catastrophes like this are a grim reminder that no matter your job, it is vital to know your company’s fire safety plans in case of emergency and understand your employer’s responsibility to protect you at work.
Why the Warehouse Fire Was So Dangerous
It took over 40 firefighters from four different fire departments to combat the persistent blaze. The fire was particularly dangerous and difficult to put out because of the loads of faux wood products stored at the Fatezzi Wood warehouse. These products posed a serious fire hazard.
Although the phrase “fire hazard” most commonly brings to mind dangerous materials like flammable liquids and chemicals, even dust, paper, and wood can be dangerous combustibles in certain situations.
“Because of the smoke and because it is a combustible material and the nature of the fact that they store a lot of it here, what we consider the fuel load is very high,” Seminole County Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Ward told News 6. “So that’s making it very stubborn.”
An Employer’s Responsibility to Protect Employees
Fortunately, because the fire occurred around 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, no workers were harmed. But if the fire had occurred during normal operation hours when workers were present, there would have been the potential for serious injury. Fires and explosions accounted for 121 workplace deaths in 2015, approximately 2.5 percent of all fatal occupational injuries for the year, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, every employee is entitled to working conditions that are free from known dangers, according to the the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. By law, most employers are required to have an emergency action plan that covers a minimum number of procedures in the event of a fire, as established by OSHA.
When required, employers must develop an emergency action plan that includes the following:
Reporting a Fire: A procedure for employees to report a fire or any other emergency that they may discover.
Employee Alarm System: A maintained alarm system that uses a distinct sound signal to warn employees of the type of evacuation taking place, such as a fire evacuation.
Emergency Fire Exits: The routes workers should use to escape the building. OSHA requires every workplace to have enough exits to allow everyone to get out of the building quickly, and these exits must be marked with exit signs and free of obstructions.
Evacuating Employees with Disabilities: Procedures should be established for helping employees with disabilities to safely evacuate the building in the event of a fire.
Accounting for All Employees: A method for ensuring all employees have been safely evacuated from the building.
Employee Training & Review: Employers must review the details of their emergency action plan with each employee. The employer must also designate and train employees who are able to assist in the safe evacuation of other employees in the event of an emergency.
Ideally, fires are prevented to begin with. Most employers are required by OSHA to have a fire prevention plan as well. This plan must include key information including:
- A list containing all major workplace fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard.
- Procedures for controlling the accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials.
- Procedures for maintaining safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials.
Are You Being Protected at Work?
Although most employers take the safety of their workers seriously, there are some unscrupulous business owners who put profits above all else, and continuously endanger their employees to make a quick buck.
If your employer fails to provide the fire safety protections listed above, you don’t have to stand for it. Our fire and burn injury attorneys at Morgan & Morgan have taken employers and negligent landlords to task for their careless actions, and we may be able to help you, too.
If you are concerned about your workplace conditions, or have been injured in a fire at your workplace, contact our attorneys today. Fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form to learn what we can do for you.