Running a business often requires an owner to wear many hats. On a given day, they may serve as an accountant, a manager, a marketer – even a cashier. Understandably, some details of workplace safety get lost in the mix. One area that is commonly overlooked is fire safety requirements. Many people know the basics: fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and emergency exits. However, there are a few items that go unnoticed. Fire safety is essential. How do business owners check these items off their list?
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with Missouri State Fire Marshal Tim Beam. He has more than thirty years of experience in police and fire services. His division resides under a broader public safety umbrella with several responsibilities. For example, they conduct everything from boiler and elevator inspections to monitoring fireworks and cigarettes. They also train and certify thousands of firefighters across the state.
First, we’ll talk about fire safety requirements that often slip through the cracks. Then, we’ll discuss why the Missouri Department of Public Safety takes these requirements seriously. Finally, we’ll share ways business owners can ensure they stay ahead regarding fire safety.
Listen to this interview on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Fire safety requirements: Overlooking the details
When it comes to fire safety, the details matter. For an experienced business owner, regular inspections and years of experience help create a safety rhythm within the business. But according to Beam, this is different for new companies. “What is very common is when someone purchases a business or a facility or builds new construction, sometimes they overlook some the intricate details,” he explained.
For example, a business owner may purchase a new hotel. Each room comes equipped with a water heater. Beam’s division regulates boilers and water heaters. They must follow set standards and be inspected yearly. However, water heater regulations may have yet to cross the new owner’s mind. “That’s just a kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind type object,” he added.
A mission to protect public safety
The Missouri Department of Public Safety has one core responsibility: to protect residents and visitors during their time in the state. The Fire Safety Division upholds this mission. Not only do inspectors work to prevent future issues, but they also work to correct existing ones. This may mean issuing fines – and allowing grace periods – when problems arise.
The time allowed to address an issue depends on its severity. For instance, fixing a broken elevator will likely require a faster fix than changing a blown light bulb inside. It’s vital for essential features in a building to be functional. This is especially true for accessibility. If a broken elevator is the only way for a disabled person to access a business, it should be fixed immediately. Giving a grace period allows business owners to coordinate a repair person, schedule necessary downtime, etc. Sometimes extensions are offered to help accommodate unforeseen circumstances.
“At the end of the day, it is about public safety, right?” Beam explained. “We want all Missourians and anybody that enters our state on vacation – your family members – we want everybody to have a great experience, and it’s about public safety.”
Recommendations for business owners
Connect with your local fire marshal when purchasing a new commercial property or opening a business. Starting a conversation about your specific needs can be a huge benefit. This is especially true if you’ve just purchased a previously owned business. “We love education on the front end,” Beam shared, “Instead of finding [issues] and then having those conversations – the parties involved incur an expense or something they weren’t expecting, or because they didn’t know.”
Work step by step
It can be easy to lose track of permits and inspections when multiple contractors are involved in a project. Fire codes can apply at local, municipal, and state levels. Higher-level codes tend to be more restrictive, acting as a ‘blanket’ to cover areas with looser regulations.
Beam encourages business owners to start at the bottom and work their way up. What permits are required from your local city hall? Which certifications or permissions do you need from the state or a city planner? Rather than jumping around from one office to another, start with one and make your way to the next.
Check new equipment
When something breaks down, our first thought is to go to the nearest hardware store and buy a replacement. A repair company may install the first boiler or machine available to help businesses get back up and running. But these only sometimes meet the Division of Fire Safety’s requirements. Consequently, something new may have to be replaced with something up to standard.
“I hate it for that individual because that’s a bad experience, and sometimes we kind of get criticized,” Beam revealed. “Because we’re doing the right thing for public safety. At the end of the day, that is our mission, and that is our responsibility. We’re not going to compromise property and human life because someone failed to do their job.”
Often contractors, repairers, and even those selling the equipment at the store aren’t aware of regulatory requirements. Before purchasing a piece of equipment or machinery, check first to see if it is regulated.
Make public safety a priority
For Beam, every employer needs to make public safety a priority. It doesn’t matter what kind of business they have. Investing upfront is always more valuable than spending to replace, revamp, or re-do later. Evaluate your new or existing business. What will keep people safe when visiting your property?
Every year, nearly 4 million new businesses open in the United States. Many never question whether elevators, rollercoasters, or daycare facilities are safe. Beam likes it that way. “That’s good when you don’t have to think about that,” he shared. “That the flow of your day in life is uneventful is how it should be. That’s the pride we take in public safety.”
The Missouri Division of Fire Safety can be reached at 573.750.0530 or via their website. Several public safety programs are available, which provide information and inspections of elevators, boilers, amusement park rides, and more.