Beat the heat

Issue 7 2021 Fire & Safety

With the amount of hard work, determination and resources that go into building a successful business, one fire could see all that effort go up in smoke. Businesses simply can’t afford to adopt an ‘it will never happen to me’ approach when it comes to fire and safety, risking injury and loss of life as well as expensive damage to assets and property.

“Some of the most common pitfalls with health and safety plans come down to human error and negligence, most of which are preventable with the correct measures and protocols in place,” says Dean Gopal, product manager of Eaton’s Life and Safety Division for Africa. “These mistakes can come with a huge financial cost for businesses and more importantly, place the lives of employees at risk.”

Failing to adapt to changing needs

Although a fire safety plan may have been drafted on occupation of a site, office layouts may change over time, new equipment and furniture is bought and staff numbers may also increase. That’s why fire safety plans need to be updated regularly to ensure they meet the ever-evolving circumstances of a business and its changing fire safety requirements over time.

These include revisiting specific instructions about which routes and exits to use in the event of a fire, as well as where to assemble, special guidelines to meet the needs of vulnerable, disabled or elderly people.

Changing the system instead of repairing it

A worrying yet common problem is when faulty or ageing fire detection systems are simply disabled to prevent false alarms or sirens from constantly going off and disrupting the workplace, instead of technicians being called in for repairs and regular maintenance.

“The short-term irritation is taken care of, with the long-term result of putting lives and property at risk when the system doesn’t do what it’s designed to. Apart from risk to life, this could also lead to insurance claim repudiations,” says Gopal.

Fire risk assessments will help organisations to mitigate fire risk as much as possible and should be conducted on an annual basis by a qualified assessor.

Overlooking the need for proper staff training

Fire safety training is crucial in ensuring the safety of the workplace and prevention of fires, as it equips employees on how to respond quickly in the event of a fire breaking out. A lack of adequate employee training means that small incidents could quickly become major disasters with devastating consequences, as people are more likely to panic and act without thinking, placing lives at risk.

Conducting fire safety training sessions throughout the year for new and existing employees is key, as are frequent and unscheduled fire drills to give employees a chance to put their learning into practice. Drills also give management a sense of the strengths and weak points of evacuation plans, so that changes can be made where needed.

Underestimating an emergency

One of the biggest risks facing businesses is the fact that employees often do not take fire alarms seriously enough. In many cases, people delay evacuations to quickly finish some work, make a call or grab all their belongings before responding to warning sirens, because they don’t believe there’s any immediate threat to worry about.

“The more people ignore fire alarms and don’t take drills seriously enough, the less prepared they will be in the event of an actual fire,” says Gopal. “Failing to treat a drill seriously enough also means that they may mistake an actual emergency for a drill, which could cost them their lives and the lives of others too.”

Innovations in fire detection and evacuation technology mitigate these kinds of risks and ensure a more communicative and efficient approach to fire safety and evacuation response. These include public address and voice alarm systems that alert people to the nature of an emergency and issue clear audio instructions to direct people away from danger and towards their designated or safest exit.

Addressing these fire safety mistakes will help prevent the crippling effects of fires on business operations and avoid serious injury or even death.

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