Workplace fire safety
Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs
All employers have a legal and moral obligation to assure the safety of their employees and anyone visiting their premises. The 1994 Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) gives your employees the right to a healthy and safe working environment and non-compliance can result in stiff penalties.
What kind of fire strategy do you have in place and do they comply with legislation?
Preventing a blaze
The first and most important aspect of fire safety is preventing one from actually breaking out. You will have to hire a government accredited service provider to assess your risk for fire and put steps in place to reduce these as much as possible.
- Ban smoking in certain areas, especially near potentially flammable materials or enclosed spaces
- Test all electrical equipment on a regular basis for potential fires hazards. Use plugs with trip-switches; make sure electric cables aren't laying around on the floor and so on
- Assign employees to do a sweep of the office/workshop every day and make sure electrical equipment is switched off and to identify potential fire hazards
- Train some members of staff in fire safety, risk assessment and emergency procedures
Make sure all employees adhere to these rules and continuously revise/update your prevention strategy to avoid becoming complacent.
Assessing your risk
Before you relax and think you already have all these measures in place, remember that inspectors can visit your premises at any time to check that you've had a fire risk assessment done and are in possession of all necessary documents in compliance with Occupational Health and Safety legislature.
Hire a reputable, government approved assessor to do the required checks. Once you've met all the requirements, make sure you receive all the relevant certification. Find out how often to repeat the process in order to minimise risk and stay on the right side of the law.
Fire detection and containment
Should a fire accidentally break out despite all these measures, the earlier the fire is detected, the better chance you have of limiting the damage.
- Installing a fire detection system is a worthwhile expense, so the fire can be contained as soon as possible and employees evacuated if necessary
- Make sure you have SABS-approved fire extinguishers placed at various points, especially in high risk areas. Make sure employees know how to use them properly
- If your business is a high fire risk, it's worth installing a sprinkler or similar system so a dangerous situation doesn't become a disastrous one
- Even the best equipment will not help you if it doesn't work. Make sure your fire equipment is serviced regularly and comply with SABS standards
If there is a serious fire, the evacuation measures you put in place can ultimately save lives. Time is of the essence, so it's important that your employees are familiar with the evacuation plan.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do your employees know what to do in the event of a fire? Will they jump out the window/first try to take as much as they can with them/get in their cars and rush home?
- Do they know the number of the nearest fire brigade or emergency services?
- In the event of a serious fire, do they phone for help first or evacuate the building first (in case you're wondering, they should evacuate first)?
- Are all fire escapes and exits clear of furniture or anything that may prevent someone from getting out in a hurry?
- Do your employees know where to assemble so a roll-call can be taken?
Taking the appropriate fire safety measures can not only save lives, but it could also mean the difference between minor damages or your business burning to the ground. When you think about it that way, there's no question whether these steps are necessary.
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