Fire Safety 101 for Businesses – Are you covered?

Today is Friday the 13th - notorious for being the unluckiest possible date, and what could be more unlucky than a fire at your business? An uncontrolled fire can be extremely damaging and costly to any organization, and while a fire protection system may be able to protect against many threats, impairments are an inevitable part of a fire protection system's life cycle. For the safety of your business and its employees, it is necessary to have a fire protection impairment program in place.

An impairment is any time that a fire detection, alarm or suppression system is out of service or unable to operate to the full extent of its intended design. During an impairment, the chances of a fire developing and causing major damage is far greater. The goal of a fire protection impairment program is to minimize the risk of a fire developing and spreading during an impairment, while maintenance, repairs and tests are performed on the system.

There are two types of impairments: planned and unplanned, which are grouped into two different levels of severity: major and minor.

  • Planned
    The system is purposely put out of service for maintenance.
  • Unplanned
    The system is unintentionally out of service, and may be so without anyone's knowledge.
  • Major
    The impairment lasts more than ten hours and/or affects multiple systems.
  • Minor
    The impairment lasts for fewer than ten hours and is limited to a single system.

When an unplanned impairment is discovered, accurately determining its severity is crucial to understanding how to handle the impairment. When scheduling something like routine maintenance, it's important to limit the extent of the impairment as much as possible, aiming to make it a minor event so that the threat of fire damage is minimized.

Types of Coverage

There are two primary factors that come into play when dealing with fire protection. Make sure your coverage incorporates them both to make sure you won't be left holding the bill

  • Commercial Property
    This is the portion of your policy that covers the building itself and the equipment inside it. When there is a loss to physical assets caused by a fire, this is what pays for replacement and repair costs.
  • Commercial Casualty
    In the aftermath of a fire, there may be a time period where you are not able to conduct business, often due to a damaged workspace. This part of your policy will cover any loss of revenue during the recovery period of a fire.

Coverages will offer different levels of protection based on your policy. Review your situation to ensure that the amount of coverage is comparable to your potential risks, and go over your policy with your FBinsure agent.

Fire Sprinkler System Credit

You can greatly reduce your premiums for fire coverage by installing a sprinkler alarm system. With some insurance providers offering 10 to 60 percent discounts, these systems can quickly pay for themselves. However, to get your full credit, you have to make sure that your system is reviewed regularly.

According to the Insurance Services Office (ISO), many organizations receive partial to no credit on their fire insurance expenses for having a fire sprinkler system in place. This is because the facility and the sprinkler system have not been properly inspected in order to provide full credit. At the request of your insurance company, ISO can inspect your facility and develop an accurate credit on your fire insurance, which will reduce your overhead costs and increase your bottom line.

Fire Sprinkler Evaluation Process

The ISO fire sprinkler evaluation process consists of a review of the following areas:

  • The system design is based on the requirements of occupancy
  • Adequate water supply
  • System installation and components
  • System test
  • An inspection of building areas without sprinklers
  • Building conditions that could affect sprinkler operation

Necessary Testing and Certifications

The following must be reviewed or completed before you receive an ISO credit:

  • Main drain test
  • Copy of the Underground and Overhead Piping Hydraulic Test Certificate
  • Dry pipe trip test results (applicable to systems with dry pipe valves only)
  • Fire pump performance test results (systems with fire pumps only)
  • System design criteria evaluation through a review of the sprinkler plans, hydraulic calculations or hydraulic data plaque information

Roles and Responsibilities During Impairments

Ensuring safety and efficiency during an impairment, whether scheduled or not, requires a great deal of work, planning and coordination. To be prepared for an impairment, businesses and organizations should develop a written program, assign responsibilities to staff and train employees in the procedures to be followed during an impairment. The written program should outline exactly what to do before, during and after an impairment based on its type and severity, as well as assign and detail the role and responsibilities.

Commonly, there are two primary roles needed during an impairment: an impairment supervisor and a fire watcher. Responsibilities should only be assigned to supervisor-level staff, with impairment supervisor responsibilities going to a safety manager. There should be a primary and alternate impairment supervisor for each shift.

Impairment Supervisor

The Impairment Supervisor's job is to implement and manage the fire protection impairment program. They take care of scheduling planned impairments and implementing the safety plan during unplanned impairments. They must also minimize the impact of the impairment by considering the unique factors of the situation and keeping as many effective fire protection systems online during the impairment as possible. This person is also responsible for notifying all relevant personnel, departments and agencies of the impairment, including the fire watcher.

Fire Watcher

The fire watcher's job is to work with the impairment supervisor to ensure that conditions during an impairment are as safe as possible and to report any unsafe conditions to them. As part of this, the fire watcher is in charge of and should be fully trained on using temporary fire protection, such as fire extinguishers and water hoses, which they should keep at the ready in the area with the impairment for the duration of the impairment. This person should be very familiar with the program, the facility and the procedures related to sounding a fire alarm.

Managing the Impairment

Before an impairment period, or when you find an unplanned impairment, the impairment supervisor should obtain a copy of the organization's fire protection impairment program form and fill it out. This form must be updated as progress is made to include further details of the impairment and repair process.

The following persons and organizations should be notified in the event of an impairment as soon as possible:

  • Insurance company or companies
  • Local fire department
  • Safety manager, or relevant managers and supervisors
  • Personnel
  • Building owner or their designated representative

Prepare the area to reduce the risk of a fire as much as possible. Cease all processes that may be hazardous, and relocate all combustibles from the impaired area. Ensure that the fire protection systems are working in all but the smallest area necessary to carry out maintenance during impairment, and have manual fire extinguishers and other fire protection alternatives at the ready.

Display a fire protection impairment permit during the duration of the impairment and issue a hot work permit if any operation involving open flames, sparks or excessive heat is necessary. Maintain a continuous fire watch throughout the impairment and work continuously until systems are restored, keeping the impairment time as short as possible. In the event that an impairment lasts longer than a single shift, have a formal handover procedure in place to ensure an efficient transition and continued safety. Supervisors taking over should be made fully aware of the details of the situation and the precautions in place.

When repairs are complete, restore the fire protection systems and test to ensure that they are fully operational. Once operational status has been verified, notify the local fire department and your insurance company that the impairment period has ended. Lastly, finalize the impairment for and keep it filed for at least one year, as it may need to be referenced at a later date.

For more information about protecting your organization from a fire, mitigating risk, and other business insurance solutions, reach out to your local FBinsure office today. Check out our social media pages for more helpful tips and