Fire Safety Tips for Your Trade Show Exhibit

March 7th, 2018

Fires may not be common at trade shows, but they can be destructive. Think, for example, of the 1967 fire that consumed the McCormick Place, due to faulty wiring in a trade show exhibit. When they occur, fires at a trade show can be devastating. That is why fire regulations surrounding trade shows and trade show displays are so stringent. That is also why it is critical that, as an exhibitor, you ensure that your trade show booth design is as fire resistant as possible.

Build your trade show exhibit out of fire resistant materials.

Perhaps the most obvious step you can take to improve fire safety in your trade show exhibit is to make sure that the materials used are fire resistant. This means that everything you use within your display, from fabric overlays to aluminum supports and even some wooden components, must be capable of resisting heat and flame without burning. The exact standards the material needs to meet will depend upon where it is going in the exhibit and what its purpose is. For example, all materials must pass either the NFPA 701 Code or the NFPA 703 Code that guarantees these fabrics, plastics, and other materials are resistant to flames. Your exhibit company or your venue can guide you regarding which materials need to meet which codes. In addition, items such as carpeting, wood, and fabrics must meet certain requirements. For example, wood must either be at least a quarter-inch thick or be fire retardant. Failure to follow these requirements can result in either making emergency changes on the trade show floor or losing access to all or part of your trade show exhibit during the show, since fire marshals cannot allow exhibits that do not follow regulations to remain in use. Staying on top of these regulations should be the responsibility of your exhibit company and their design services. Having the right materials in your trade show booth can save you headaches on the trade show floor, since fire marshals can check the flame retardancy of any materials they suspect are not up to code.

Keep your trade show exhibit lighting choices within the venue’s guidelines.

The wrong kind of trade show display lighting, or lighting used in the wrong way, can contribute to fires that will shut down your exhibit and possibly the exhibit hall faster than you can call for the fire extinguisher. In order to avoid potential fire hazards, and issues with the venue, make sure your trade show exhibit lighting complies with the venue’s guidelines. For example, many venues ban certain types of halogen bulbs (such as unshielded halogen or 100W halogen bulbs) because those bulbs pose an increased risk of exploding. Other lighting regulations you may need to comply with include choosing lighting that is UL (Underwriters Laboratory) certified (a certification of safety from a respected safety testing company), avoiding the use of certain other types of bulbs, and more. Because specific regulations vary from venue to venue, checking your exhibitor’s handbook is a good place to start when figuring out if the lighting you want to include in your exhibit is allowed by the venue. By complying with the appropriate requirements, you will improve both the fire safety of your trade show display and reduce the chances of having to change or remove any lighting once you get on the trade show floor. 

Watch the placement of cords in your trade show exhibit.

While lighting and materials might be the obvious culprits when it comes to trade show display fires, there is another that may be less noticeable: electrical wires. (Remember the cause of the McCormick Place fire?) As a result, you must ensure that your wiring is properly installed and meets all of your venue’s regulations (which can be found in your exhibitor’s handbook). In addition, watch out for the placement of wires. You will likely need to keep them accessible, which means that you will need to build in space within your trade show booth design not only for the cords to run under the floor but also for them to be easily accessed. Other issues you may encounter with electrical wiring include keeping computer cords and other cords in well-ventilated areas, where they will not get overheated, and away from sources of heat. For example, electrical wires and incandescent light bulbs do not mix (yet another reason to consider cooler LED lighting). Careful, professional wiring can ensure that you enjoy a fire-free trade show, and avoid other issues such as melted wires, burned computer components, and damaged flooring.

Keep your trade show exhibit free of clutter.

Venue regulations should call for you to keep your trade show exhibit free of clutter, but this is a wise practice regardless. For example, all packing materials, papers, cardboard boxes, pallets, and the like, must not be stored in or behind your trade show exhibit. In addition, you should not keep any literature beyond a one-day supply, and these should be neatly stored on tables, display cases, or other areas, not in cardboard boxes or on the floor. Of course, reducing clutter is a smart move for creating a more appealing space within your trade show display. But, keeping flammable materials like boxes and papers to a minimum within and just outside your booth can also prevent fires and ensure a smooth and uninterrupted time of exhibiting at the trade show. Fire safety is a critical component of any trade show exhibit. Making sure that you are following your venue’s regulations, and common sense, when it comes to fire safety can make for a safer trade show and help you to avoid problems with the fire marshal once you get to the exhibit hall. As a result, build your trade show exhibit out of fire resistant materials; keep your trade show display lighting choices within your venue’s guidelines, watch the placement of cords, and keep your exhibit free of clutter. By doing so, you will set yourself up for a safer, and therefore more successful, event.