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Workplace Safety in High Rises

Fotolia_85856075_XSThis week, we are covering several threats to workplace safety in high-rise buildings: earthquakes, fire, and accidents. High-rise buildings pose specific risks for occupants as well as property owners and managers, due to their large size and the sheer number of potential affected tenants, visitors and on-site staff. September is National Preparedness Month, which makes it the perfect time to review workplace safety procedures.

Earthquakes

Sitting in even a well-built, retrofitted high-rise during an earthquake can be a harrowing experience. The building can sway and moves ever so slightly (which is intentional). The result can cause light nausea and movement of light fixtures, blinds and ceiling panels. Building managers and owners can help their tenants manage the risk of earthquakes and feel relatively secure during them by:

  • Encouraging tenants to stay seated during an actual earthquake. Most quakes are quite short. In fact, most last less than one minute. So it is highly recommended that people not use elevators while the earth shakes. It’s better to simply sit down (away from built-in bookcases and artwork) and wait for the shaking to stop.

Fire

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that fires cost stores and businesses upwards of $708 million. This is a staggering sum of money, and can be reduced if building occupants closely follow fire prevention best practices. In high rises, the damages caused by fires can be severe, as fires can rise quickly to upper floors, and it can be logistically challenging to evacuate large numbers of people unless those people have been properly trained about emergency evacuation procedures.

Don't take the stairs if an earthquake hits.

Don’t take the stairs if an earthquake hits.

To prevent high-rise fires:

  • Remove combustible materials and eliminate walkway obstructions. Talk to tenants about the importance of maintaining clutter-free offices. Mounds of paper can fuel fire, and cluttered pathways could impede evacuation, and block the entrance to firefighting crews. Stairways should always be clear of debris.
  • Locate and check fire extinguishers. Consider creating and posting a video instructing building occupants about the proper use of fire extinguishers. Selecting and installing the right type of extinguisher for any given area is also important. High-rise buildings can contain thousands of extinguishers, so it’s important to monitor their locations and expiration dates.
  • Plan and practice evacuation plans. Property owners and building managers should work closely with tenants to explain and practice evacuation procedures in the event of fire. Moving a large number of people through the stairwells can pose a challenge, particularly for the disabled and elderly individuals. Fire drills can help identify evacuation roadblocks and educate residents about safe evacuation routes.

Accidents

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,679 individuals were killed on the job in 2014, with tens of thousands of deaths attributable to occupational diseases. Although great strides have been made over the decades to improve worker safety, companies and property managers and their tenants will benefit when the safest possible workplace environment is provided.

Workplace Safety Best Practices:

  • Eliminate slippery floors. Falls are one of the most common causes of workplace accidents. Property managers can arrange to have floors cleaned at night, to allow surfaces to dry properly before workers arrive. In snowy climates, melting ice and snow could leave slick surfaces. Non-slip mats and salt can reduce this risk.
  • Uneven floors can cause falls. Look closely at cracked sidewalks and entryways, as well as the transitions between different types of flooring. For example, if tenants are allowed to make office or residence improvements and choose their own flooring, examine the area between hallways and tenant entrances to make sure the height of the surfaces match.

Remember that safety is an ever-present priority, at home and at work. So be sure to think about disaster planning all of the time–not just during September. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about our system, or to subscribe, click here.

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