Empty buildings pose a potential fire hazard

Issue 2 2021 Fire & Safety

COVID-19 has highlighted another potential problem for corporates and small business owners – the threat of fire in empty buildings.

Andrew Worthington, Fidelity Fire Solutions general manager, says continuous maintenance and upkeep in buildings is a big factor in preventing fires, and with so many corporates having opted to work from home this past year, there is a much higher chance of maintenance and upkeep being neglected and a fire going undetected or starting unexpectedly.

Worthington says that due to the lockdown, many organisations have left their office buildings unattended for extended periods of time and in some offices, desks and equipment may have been left as they were when the office was occupied. “This poses a fire risk as rodents are more likely to infest a neglected building and in so doing may chew through the insulation of the building’s wiring, which in turn causes electrical shorts and potentially fires. This risk is even greater in completely deserted buildings, since there will be no one to spot the pest problem until it is too late and this is all the more reason to take fire safety seriously in these locations so that if the worst does happen, the issue can be detected and dealt with before it spreads.”

He says the same can happen with office equipment and appliances which were left on. With lack of maintenance and cleaning, the wiring can overheat, causing fires. “This, in combination with paperwork or storage rooms left closed, can pose a big risk,” he says.

Fidelity Fire Solutions advises commercial property owners to:

- Ensure that proper care is taken to switch off the power, or equipment not in use.

- Have someone regularly check offices for possible risks.

- Follow normal EHS housekeeping practices with regular maintenance for equipment and fire systems.

- Check empty buildings at least once a month, and ensure you keep a proper record of all maintenance. Ensure you keep to a regular schedule.

- Consider installing an effective fire alarm/smoke alarm system which is linked to your security system. Detection is key when it comes to fire safety, since the faster a potential fire is spotted, the quicker it can be dealt with.

Worthington says fire is also not the only risk to be mindful of. “Risks of water leakages, pest infestations, mould build-up as well as structural decay also pose serious problems that can build up over extended periods of abandonment. There is also a possibility that buildings can become occupied by squatters, or used for criminal activity if there isn’t a regular inspection of the building or office park. So the best advice is regular maintenance, backed by the right preventive smoke and fire detection,” he concludes.


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