FIRE RISK ASSESSMENTS. WHY BOTHER?

 In recent articles we have briefly discussed the topic of fire risk assessments and how they can be seen to be used as a way of showing due diligence for Person Conduction a Business or Undertaking (PCBU). In this article we will go into more detail on what is involved in fire risk assessments, how they can reduce fire hazards and improve fire safety in the workplace.

Many fire hazards and sources of ignition can be found in the everyday workplace, most of which can easily be resolved with good managerial procedures. Once the fire hazards have been identified, the assessment report can give recommendations on what can be done to remedy the hazards as well as identifying the level of risk the hazards may have on building occupants. Once the PCBU is aware of such risks, procedures can be implemented to mitigate them.

FIRE HAZARDS AND SOURCES OF IGNITION

One of the largest causes of fires is from electrical equipment or ‘electrical fires’. One way to reduce this type of fire hazard is to ensure that all electrical equipment is tested regularly by a qualified person to ensure it is safe for the workplace. Doing this will reduce the chances that the piece of equipment will fail and cause a fire.

Another common hazard is excessive fire loading. The removal of card/paper waste from the office, to a designated refuse area, can make a big impact on reducing fire loading. Ensuring the workplace is kept tidy and clear of excess fire loading is an easy preventative measure that can be taken.

MEANS OF ESCAPE

If a fire were to start while a building is occupied, occupants would want to get out in the quickest, safest and most stress-free way possible. Evacuating a building under a controlled evacuation drill is one thing, but a real fire evacuation can be very different. They can be scary and dangerous, especially in large, complex or high-rise buildings.

Many injuries occur during evacuation procedures, some from people panicking and some from hazardous conditions due to poor building management. Having well trained staff, well organised fire procedures and a well-managed building can make all the difference.

EVACUATION PROCEDURES

Storing items in egress passages is too common, especially in retail units, and is one of the main items picked up on during fire risk assessments. Another prevalent finding is a lack of planning or lack of set procedures for fire evacuations, especially for people with disabilities.

Disabilities, in the context of being able to evacuate safely and without impeding others, comes in many forms and can include such things as advanced stages of pregnancy, reduced mobility (not necessarily wheelchair bound but anyone who may have trouble walking or taking stairs), and people with sight and/or hearing impairments, among others. If people with disabilities are able to enter your building, then provision should be made to safely evacuate them in the event of a fire or, to provide a safe refuge area for occupants to wait until suitable provision can be arranged for their evacuation. A fire risk assessment will help identify such issues and help create a solution.

SPREAD OF FIRE

Most buildings have fire walls and fire doors to reduce the spread of fire and smoke throughout the building. In many cases poor management or lack of understanding can lead to these fire stopping measures being compromised. If a fire door is wedged open it is not able to do its job of holding back a fire, which in turn increases the distance a fire can spread before it can be brought under control.

PROPERTY PROTECTION FOR BUSINESS CONTINUATION

A common issue found while conducting fire risk assessments is that of missing ceiling tiles within particularly high risk areas, such as server rooms. The tenants may have removed the tiles to give the room increased ventilation without realising the consequences of such an action. By removing the ceiling tiles they have in fact made a ‘hole’ for fire and smoke to reach up into and spread along undetected to the rest of the ceiling space, and into other areas of the building. Identifying and rectifying such hazards may very well save your business.

LEVEL OF RISK

Even a common office environment, which could be considered low risk in general, may have potential high risk fire hazards and other possible fire safety issues that impact on life safety. Some workplaces carry lower risk than others simply due to the type of activity taking place in the particular building. A market place or factory, for example, will likely have a higher risk and presumably more hazards associated with it.

With more building owners concerned about fire safety in their buildings and wondering “how does the law protect me?” ensuring your building is as safe as it can be by having a fire risk assessment done and implementing the recommendations will go a long way to mitigating this risk. The risk assessment is designed to enable the PCBU to comply with the legal requirements summarised below:
> The New Zealand Building Act 2004 and compliance with the Approved Document (i.e. the respective Acceptable Solution)
> Section 21A of the Fire Service Act
> Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations 2006

A fire risk assessment will outline potential fire hazards and sources of ignition; assess and evaluate the conditions of means of escape in the event of a fire; assess safe evacuation procedures for the building
occupants to a place of ‘ultimate safety’; assess the control of internal and external spread of fire and smoke for property protection and ergo business continuation.

In short, a fire risk assessment will highlight areas of a building that may be required to be improved on in terms of fire and life safety. To find out more about fire risk assessments and our fire engineering services call 0800 PRENDOS or email [email protected]

BY TIM COPLEY, FIRE ENGINEER

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