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Keeping the Workplace 'Fireproof'

May 15, 2019

Here’s the thing. We are all human, and unless you are doing something every day, there is every chance, that despite the best training, you may forget something when it comes time to do it. In fact, despite all your preparation, it is normal for everyday people to panic and forget what to do when a fire occurs in the office. In research conducted by Fire & Safety Australia, it was found that less than 50 percent of building occupants know how to operate a fire extinguisher or feel confident and know what to do. Worse, a great percentage also couldn’t accurately answer where to evacuate in the case of a fire emergency.
Because occupational fires often result in business losses – irrespective of the size – it is important you have a documented and taught workplace safety procedure as well as preventive measures in place.
Today, I wanted to tackle the topic of effective fire safety measures that businesses can apply in their premises. Make sure that you take note of these and share them with your employees so that they will have a greater knowledge regarding workplace hazards and the workplace safety skills they may want to acquire.  

Establish a fire safety and evacuation plan in place

One of the most effective ways an employer can protect their organisation from the costly effects of a devastating blaze is by creating a fire safety and evacuation plan. Aside from being a regulatory requirement (evidenced by a fire safety certificate), the document will become your company’s holy grail should a workplace fire occur.
By determining and then detailing every aspect of the action plan designed specifically for your property, you will be able to train your employees in things which seem obvious when not under stress, but which could save lives and the building when they are.
We’re talking things such as
  • How and where to sound the alarm
  • How to use a fire extinguisher
  • Which fire extinguisher is the right one
  • How to check for danger
  • Notifying the fire department and authorities
  • Evacuating the occupants of the building.
They will also learn how to minimise the damage caused by fires, the points of command during emergencies, and to implement actions that will prevent and control the associated hazard, should a fire occur in your premises.
On top of that, a fire safety action plan will help you establish a regular schedule on fire drills and fire management training that your employees can teach and attend.
By equipping them with the right instruction and practice, you can improve the staff’s focus and reduce the onset of panic attacks in times of crises.

Have a regular Test and Tag

As an employer, you are acutely aware that you can be found liable for any accident that one of your employees encounters while in the workplace if you are found negligent. So you do what needs to be done to ensure you have a non-slip floor, or that you have handrails on ramps, or that you have signs up where they are needed. But many employers forget that electrical circuits and the electrical cables used every day, also need to be attended to.
Testing your electrical devices – everyone, from the kettle cord, through to your laptop charge cable, through to the cables that power your machinery or printer and even your hand-dryers – also known as Test and Tag is critical. A qualified employee, or a specialist need to regularly check the safety of all the electrical equipment and safety switches found inside your premises, in compliance with the AS/NZS 3760 Standard and attach a tag to show the date of testing and that it has passed. Anything which fails should be replaced as not only could it cause electrocution; it can also be the cause of a fire.
Take note that intervals of testing and tagging differs per industry. For instance, in construction and mining, a test and tag is required every three months. In manufacturing, a 6-month interval is advised for non-double-insulated equipment. For office work with no safety switch, a test and tag process should be done every five years. For more information about testing and tagging electrical equipment, read the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 and the AS/NZS 3012 Electrical installations – Construction and demolition sites.

Dedicate a safe storage area for flammables and the like

Any person who’s in the business of using, handling, generating, or storing hazardous chemicals in their premises is required by law to comply with the specified workplace safety laws imposed in their respective state or territory.  
Under the Australian Standards AS1940:2017, various recommended storage solutions that business owners can utilise are defined. Minor storage is required for the accommodation of flammable and combustible materials in small quantities not exceeding the specified amount in Table 2.1, Section 2 of AS1940. A flammable liquid storage is required, which must have a double-walled steel construction, spill compound, and self-closing doors and must be installed in a well-ventilated area.
If on the other hand, you have more than more than 100L of flammable liquids, or more than 1000L of combustible liquids stored in your building, you are required to have at least one readily accessible, portable fire extinguisher with the suitable rating for use with the range of materials being kept. If the liquids are emptied out in an open area, a fire extinguisher shall be provided within 5 metres of the storage space.
Keep in mind that a more stringent storage regulation applies for tank systems and tank vehicle loading facilities so it is best to seek professional guidance when handling much larger quantities of flammable and combustible liquids in your premises.

Reinforce your active fire protection system

Another way to boost your building’s fire safety is to enhance your active fire protection system. Unlike passive fire protection (which is discussed in the next section), active fire protection is specified by the use of items or systems that require some amount of physical action, response, or motion in order to efficiently work in case of fire.
Common items under this list include fire extinguishers, standpipe systems, fire and smoke alarms, sprinkler systems, and fire hoses, and the like. What is common among these is the fact that they only work when manually operated or when they detect a fire or smoke, thus prompting a response.

Invest in passive fire protection

A good fire safety plan includes the use of passive fire protection or PFP. PFP encourages the use of fire-resistant materials that will help slow the spread of a fire for a limited period of time.  For instance, concrete, gypsum board, or calcium silicate board is used to cover walls, floors, or doors in order to contain fire and thus, limiting the damage only to a minimum.
Nevertheless, there are only two passive fire protection systems that are considered acceptable by various fire standards around the world: vermiculite fire protection and intumescent fire protection. The first fireproof material is lightweight and seemingly affordable (don’t be fooled by the cost of materials as application costs and other factors need to be incorporated), yet it is prone to corrosion, is not resistant to water or mould growth. On top of that, for it to work properly, a thick layer of the material must be applied on steel which is aesthetically unappealing.
Conversely, thin film intumescent fire protection systems such as our Nullifire Range performs better, is water resistant, does not have to be primed and can be finished to a high architectural finish.
At Permax, we offer a range of intumescent coatings or fire-retardant paints which shield structural steel in the case of fires fuelled by paper, plastic, timber, furniture, and other common items typically found in buildings. Used as a thin layer on structural steel, this coating creates an efficient layer of char between the steel and fire with a protection level of up to 120 minutes, helping contain the fire from room to room or floor to floor. If you want to limit severe workplace hazards and to save your property and the lives of your employees, you need to ensure intumescent coatings as a part of your wider fire protection plan.
 
All in all, fire has the potential to be a destructive force that can take lives, equipment and buildings. Yet, through some simple precautions, you have the ability to limit the devastation and ensure the safety of your employees and building occupants! The choice is simple really isn’t it!
 
 

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