The safety of workers is always on the agenda of the EHS (Environment Health & Safety) department. The employer is always legally responsible and obliged to provide a safe working environment. This also concerns everything related to Fire Safety Management. The latter also lies within the responsibilities of the EHS department.
What are the regulations and standards for fire safety? What are the procedures for fire safety management?
The fire risk is a reality and the numbers can speak for themselves. According to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty’s Global Claims Review, 2022, fires and explosions (excluding wildfires) are the leading known cause of company insurance losses, just before natural disasters phenomena. With 21% of the value of all claims, the average claim loss is estimated at 1.5 million euros.
In the United States of America (USA), OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), workplace fires/explosions are estimated to cause the death of 200 workers and more than 5000 injuries every year. These incidents cost businesses around 2.3 billion dollars in terms of property damage.
In the United Kingdom (UK), there are around 22 000 workplace fire incidents. Workplace fire incidents keep happening even with the huge investment of the UK government to reduce these risks: “in 2020/2021 the government spent 3.13 billion pounds on fire protection services”.
Fire incidents cost greatly in terms of human lives and costs for businesses. However, there are always laws, regulations and standards to help companies put in place a fire safety management system to protect their human force, assets and properties.
Fire safety in the regulatory framework
Every country around the world has its legal framework regarding fire safety in general and workplace fire safety in particular. In every aspect of the legal framework (home or work-based), it is always about protecting the lives of every being and the environment.
For example in England and Wales, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 covers general fire safety, and other procedures related to the workplace. The latter contains guidance on all the fire safety management and procedure to guarantee the safety of the workers and the surrounding environment.
In the USA, OSHA is responsible for issuing many standards regarding fire safety depending on the industrial activity of the workplace and specifies a list of hazards and possible solutions that can cause any fire incidents in the workplace.
In general, many laws and regulations are similar in some areas, especially when it comes to fire risk assessment by the EHS department, providing fire fighting equipment adapted to the work activity, fire alarms (periodically tested and monitored), personnel training, etc.
In addition, many other organisations have fire safety standards and training programs to guarantee that all procedures are respected, and help companies with their fire safety management. We can list, for example, the National Fire Protection Association (NAFPA), The International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS), British Standards Institution and their fire safety standards (BSI 7974 Fire Safety Engineering; BS 9999:2017 Fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings), Confederation of Fire Protection Associations Europe (CFPA Europe), and, of course, there are the ISO standards related to fire protection and safety (ISO 8421 standard series for fire protection, ISO 13943:2017 standard for fire safety - Vocabulary, ISO 23932-1:2018 standard of fire safety engineering).
All these guidelines, standards, laws and regulations will help to control or eliminate the causes of fire incidents, and if they occur the best conduct to have to save lives.
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What are the causes of workplace fire incidents?
Let us start with the basics of the generation of a fire incident. The most common and known as the “Fire Triangle”: Heat (activation energy) - Oxidiser (generally Oxygen) - Fuel (flammable product). The combination of these 3 elements will generate fire, causing incidents and other disasters. If the incident/event’s intensity is high, this could lead to fire explosions.
Therefore, the most common factors in workplace fire incidents are
- Incorrect use of electrical appliances (poor workmanship, lack of maintenance, etc.)
- Misuse of equipment (heaters too close to flammable or combustible materials, etc.)
- Unsuitable storage of waste or other flammable/combustible materials
- Incautious handling of fire or hot substances
There are many other reasons than the ones listed above, that can be the reason for fire incidents. Therefore, it is essential to conduct a thorough and rigorous fire risk assessment, in addition to other necessary procedures to implement to guarantee the safety of the workers.
Fire Safety Management and EHS
“Safety is everyone’s business”. In companies and organisations, it is up to the employer to comply with all the safety regulations in collaboration with the EHS department. The employer must also provide all the necessary tools and equipment for the EHS department to be able to perform their tasks and guarantee the safety of workers. Therefore, fire safety management also lies in the hands of the employer and EHS.
Ensuring fire safety is no different from classical mitigation or controlling any hazards in the workplace. It starts with the risk assessment, eliminating/controlling the hazards, implementing the safety measures and procedures, and always reviewing the risk assessment.
Fire risk assessment
The hazards related to fire safety may differ from one workplace to another, and they depend on the type of industry/activity of the company. However, based on the fire triangle, as described above, we have 3 sources for fire. Therefore, the EHS officer/manager should identify all the areas that contain these sources, such as electrical equipment, hot substances, heater, etc.
It is important to go through all the areas, premises and warehouses of the company to completely cover all aspects of fire hazards in the risk assessment. All the working procedures should be reviewed to analyse if there is any source of ignition handled by the operators during their daily activity.
In addition to a classical risk assessment, the fire safety risk assessment chart details more aspects to be covered, such as emergency exits and procedures, fire detection alarms (also monitor their periodic maintenance), fire fighting equipment, emergency evacuation plan, storage/removal of dangerous flammable/combustible substances, and many more detailed actions to be considered depending on the company's activity and location.
In addition to the identification of fire hazards, you must identify the people at risk too. It is them that you should put on top of the list in terms of safety and of course after comes the premises and equipment. You should identify your staff, their working posts and their location. This mapping is important to also understand who might be handling dangerous materials and help them recognise the best practices to implement to save their lives and their colleagues. This is one step in the evaluation, elimination and control of the hazards.
If you feel that you lack the experience and expertise to conduct a fire risk assessment, you can rely on many organisations to help you, such as your local fire and rescue authorities, which can give you great advice and they might carry out the fire risk assessment themselves.
Fire safety equipment
Once the fire risk assessment is completed, all safety measures and procedures are then defined and implemented. The aim is that after the evacuation of all the hazards, to eliminate them or control if they cannot be eliminated.
The evaluation of hazards will allow you to classify the different types of fuels that can start a fire. This is essential as based on their type you will be able to choose the adapted fire extinguisher. There are 4 classes of fuels and therefore necessitate adapted fire extinguishing equipment.
- Class A: wood, paper, or any non-metal combustible solid material
- Class B: flammable non-metal liquids such as gasoline, oil and grease
- Class C: electrical equipment, appliances and wiring
- Class D: metallic flammable substances such as sodium, potassium and magnesium.
- A special mention for Class K like grease of cooking oils used in the kitchen.
This is why it is so important to evaluate and identify the hazards and fuels to better understand how to control them in case of a fire incident via fire extinguishers.
In addition, you should define the best appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to use when handling dangerous and flammable or combustible substances. So, make sure that all the concerned workers are well-equipped and that they comply with the safety measures in place.
Moreover, fire detection and warning systems should be installed in the workplace. They should be periodically checked to ensure that they properly function. This is a legal requirement that an employer should not forget.
All fire equipment should be carefully checked and maintained to make sure that they function in case of fire. Fire equipment can vary from one place to another depending on the work activity and substances used.
Evacuation plan and training
To complete the fire safety procedures, you should elaborate an evacuation plan to lead everyone to safety in case of an incident.
The evacuation plan must specify a clear passageway for escape routes that must be clearly marked, available exits for workers to escape, emergency doors and lighting where necessary, train employees so that they do not panic and have good reflexes if an incident occurs and finally determine a safe meeting point.
A successful evacuation plan necessitates also training and drills to make sure that multiple aspects are well respected by the employees and that the fire alarm systems are working alongside the emergency exits, lighting and all the necessary equipment for fire safety.
Maintenance and testing of all fire safety equipment is an obligation. Any faults or anomalies detected during the maintenance and testing must be reported immediately and the problem should be directly fixed. Moreover, you must train the staff on how to handle fire extinguishers and all the related fire safety measures, especially recruits.
Finally, you should never forget to review the risk assessment to make sure that all the hazards are always detected, and sometimes the procedures can change which can lead to the appearance of new hazards. Hence, the importance of reviewing the fire risk assessment.
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Fire safety management with digital technology
Fire safety management is a rigorous and very detailed procedure that can produce a lot of administrative work. Starting from the legal monitoring for safety measures, to performing the risks assessment, the implemented measures and fire safety equipment, the evacuation plan, and all the records of the drills and training of employees are all information and data that should be handled carefully.
Relying on a digital tool can greatly lighten the administrative burden of fire safety management and can be time-saving. A dedicated platform will allow the centralisation of all the information, records and files in the same place. Dynamic dashboards coupled with dedicated sensors will be automatically fed with real-time data from the field. Fire safety systems/equipment are now autonomous, and can be connected to the platforms thanks to connected objects.
The maintenance of safety equipment is essential so that it always remains operational when needed. Here too, digital proves all its interest with computer-aided management solutions (CMMS).
Fire safety management should be rigorously prepared as the stakes are high. It has its own identity in terms of management, and it is directly related to the principles of health and safety at work. Therefore, it is an essential task for the EHS manager to master and monitor as many aspects depend on it. Relying on adequate tools will greatly help achieve fire safety objectives, prevent disasters and involve all parties concerned in fire safety awareness and practices. Finally, I was inspired by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service phrase “Working together for a safer workplace”.
To go further:
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