As fire consultants, we get to visit a variety of businesses. We assess, for example; office and apartment blocks, factories, warehouses, restaurants, hotels and motels – our clients and locations are extremely diverse. Although the businesses we work with often have nothing in common, they regularly have similar fire safety problems. In this article we are going to outline some of the most common problems and suggest what you can do to solve them.
The majority of the companies we visit will have appointed a responsible person (fire warden) to be in charge of fire safety. Although it is not required by law, it is part of your obligations as a PCBU under the WHS Regulations. What we often find is that companies who have a designated member of staff, often don’t maintain training on fire regulations and equipment. This individual has proactive responsibilities ranging from:
- Helping you to formulate your detailed fire risk and emergency plans
- Arranging drills
- Managing documentation – including inspection check reports, risk assessments and drill roll call records
- Routine testing of fire suppression and detection equipment
- General workplace equipment testing
- Hazard prevention: e.g. relating to the safe storage of flammable and hazardous substances
- Ensuring fire exits and routes are free from obstruction
To Reactive responsibilities like:
- Raising alarms
- Alerting emergency services
- Deploying first response fire fighting equipment (e.g. extinguishers)
- Communicating with staff
- Assisting the evacuation of persons with special needs
- Carrying out sweep checks of the premises
- Closing doors and windows
- Isolating vulnerable areas/machinery (where safe to do so)
- Administering first aid
- Overseeing the roll call at the designated assembly point
- Communicating with emergency response services
- Informing staff when it is safe to re-enter the premises and ensuring that any isolated areas remain out of bounds
- Completing post-incident reports
So constant awareness and training is key to overall safety.
Instead of placing the responsibility on one set of shoulders, ideally there should be enough wardens to cover all areas of a building, typically one for each floor. If your staff are sufficiently trained, they are more likely to pre-empt and spot potential fire risks around your premises; therefore reducing the risk of a fire.
Investing money in staff training helps to retain staff, as well as increasing motivation and productivity in the workplace. So by training your staff about fire safety you could not only help prevent a fire, it could also go some way in making your staff more motivated and efficient.
If your business contains a large stock of goods or materials, it’s really important that you have the necessary safety measures in place. A large number of businesses we visit assume that if they meet the relevant legal requirements, then their property and procedures are satisfactory. Although this is true to a certain extent, there are common problems that can be easily solved that will help to provide higher standards of safety.
Warehouse or storage areas should be fitted with a sprinkler system regardless of how big or small it is. In the case of a fire, an effective sprinkler system can considerably reduce the amount of damage done to goods or materials, as well as ensuring your staff are safe at all times.
It’s also really important that waste, flammable objects and chemicals aren’t building up in any part of your building. Waste such as paper and wood shavings presents a serious fire risk if it starts to collect. By simply cleaning your storage area on a regular basis will eliminate this risk.
If you own or manage a large warehouse it’s really important that all your staff are aware of all the exit points so they can quickly and safely leave the building in case of a fire. We also advise that you don’t create any dead ends between storage units that are longer than 15 meters.
Inadequate fire equipment
Very often we talk to building owners who feel they have the correct fire equipment already in place, even when they have an old fire extinguisher that’s been collecting dust for countless years. Rather unsurprisingly, their extinguishers are either faulty or are even the wrong type of extinguisher for their premises – in other words they are completely useless and unreliable.
There are strict laws on the type of fire extinguisher you are required to have depending on the potential risks at your premises. For example, if you have abundant electrical equipment you will need to have a C02 extinguisher, which means that if you have a standard water extinguisher the chances are using it will actually enhance the fire, not decrease it.
If you business accommodates a kitchen, you will need to be aware of the strict regulations relating to the different types of fire blankets available, as well as smoke alarms and extinguishers. It’s really important that your fire safety equipment functions properly, meets industry standards and is replaced regularly.
The majority of fire risks we identify during our consultancy work can be solved fairly easily with your co-operation and understanding. Simple yet effective factors of moving rubbish and clearing fire exits can easily save lives. It’s the small things that ultimately make the biggest difference.
We can’t highlight enough how important it is to have the correct fire equipment occupying your commercial property. We strongly recommend that you get a fully qualified consultant to carry out a comprehensive audit of your premises to identify any areas that need to be improved, as well as staff training and awareness.
Yours In Fire Safety