Preparing to deal with a fire

August 2012 Fire & Safety

A properly implemented fire strategy requires a four-step model to help avoid fire threats and adhere to South Africa’s health and safety legislation requirements: Prevent, Detect, Contain and Escape.

Fire prevention

Minimising the risk of fire breaking out is the number one priority in an organisation’s fire safety strategy. Good housekeeping, including some simple steps such as providing a controlled smoking environment, testing electrical appliances, controlling the use of electrical heaters, and training staff, can have a positive impact on reducing the risk of fire.

The first step to preventing a fire is a fire risk assessment which often is a very sensible investment. Chubb Fire and Security offers fire risk assessments conducted by professional and qualified personnel throughout South Africa.

Fire detection

While the main focus of a fire protection strategy is to prevent fire, in the event that a fire accidentally starts, early automatic fire detection is essential to contain the fire. Many businesses in South Africa do not have a fire detection system in the workplace. These systems range from basic entry level to very sophisticated complete solutions that may be combined with a fire suppression system and a public address (PA) or evacuation system.

However, without effective service and maintenance, even the best installed fire protection equipment can deteriorate. If these systems are not maintained regularly after installation, compliance with legislative requirements becomes null and void and investment in these systems is wasted. It is therefore advisable that fire-fighting, detection and suppression equipment and systems are maintained and serviced on a quarterly basis by a qualified fire technician.

Containing a fire

Selecting the right application of fire suppressants offers the best chance to contain a fire before it develops into a major incident, saving both lives and property. Tackling a small fire with a fire extinguisher may make the difference between a small incident and a full-scale disaster.

While most people recognise the value and importance of fire extinguishers, detection and suppression systems are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and in the case of suppression, high-pressure or low-pressure water mist, foam, or carbon dioxide (CO2) systems are becoming more available. Furthermore, gases such as Argonite, (a blend of argon and nitrogen) and FM-200 can be used as safe and environmentally sound alternatives to Halon.

Should a fire start in a building, an automatic fire sprinkler system can help contain the spread of damage once the fire has been detected. Additionally, the system can significantly reduce the risk to structures or property.

Escape

In the event of a fire, the evacuation measures an organisation has put in place can help people to escape safely. All large organisations should have sophisticated automated PA and evacuation systems in place. Ideally, they should be fully managed with built-in pre-recorded messages that can be played when certain events occur, such as fire alarms, critical building alarms, general messages, etc. These systems should be designed with built-in redundancy and uninterruptible power supplies as they are critical in the event of a fire.

Having the correct signage in all the right places will help comply with the current South African National Standard (SANS) regulations, as well as keep employees safe by minimising confusion during evacuation.

For more information contact Chubb Security South Africa, +27 (0)11 761 7000, www.chubb.co.za


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