Fire safety and your facility
Fire safety in facilities is an issue that never lessens or loses importance. MATT SULLEY addresses the topic of fire safety compliance.
Building fires can have a catastrophic impact. Not only do they present a serious threat to people’s lives, but they can also have devastating consequences for a business if property loss and damage take place. Expensive equipment and important data may be permanently destroyed and the business may need to close down or may experience lengthy downtime if repairs or rebuilding are required.
Fire safety is an ongoing responsibility for facility managers and should be high on their priority list. Keeping buildings and occupants safe doesn’t start when a fire is detected; it requires constant vigilance to ensure the building’s mandatory fire protection systems comply with Australian Standards and state- based legislation.
While fire protection considerations and responsibilities can be overwhelming for facility managers, having the right processes in place, including scheduling regular tests, services and maintenance, can help take the stress out of maintaining fire safety requirements.
While it may not be entirely possible to prevent a fire, every effort should be made to protect occupants and minimise damage to property should a fire occur. In the event of a fire, every second counts, and the earlier the fire is detected, the faster occupants can evacuate to safety.
FIRE TESTING AND COMPLIANCE
Fire safety compliance and the testing of systems and equipment is one of the biggest issues currently facing facility managers. While there is a legal requirement for buildings to have a working fire system in line with Australian Standards and legislation, the difficulty facing many facility managers is to keep on top of their ongoing compliance responsibilities.
The testing of fire systems and equipment must pass within specific tolerances with the results recorded in a dedicated logbook. In theory this sounds straightforward; however, the testing process can be challenging due to the industry’s residual reliance on paper- based record keeping. This manual process is particularly difficult for facility managers who manage multiple sites and require complete visibility over the testing records for each building.
To help address this growing challenge, Wormald has introduced new online technology that gives facility managers unprecedented real-time visibility across their preventative fire safety maintenance and services records, including instant updates on a building’s annual fire testing status. This is a major step forward in an industry that is highly regulated.
As facility managers continue to grapple with increasing responsibilities and sub- contractors to maintain modern building sites, intuitive real-time visibility can provide invaluable peace of mind and instil a level of trust that vital emergency system testing is being completed.
DEFINING SOLUTIONS FOR DIFFERENT FIRE CLASSES
Hazards will vary depending on the nature of the business or property, but they can include electrical equipment, kitchen or heating appliances, flammable liquids and combustible waste material. Identifying potential hazards will inform your fire safety plan.
Fire safety systems and equipment are primarily for the protection of people and property. When reviewing the building risk profile there are three key types of facilities that require different classification considerations.
Commercial offices including multistorey high-rise buildings – the primary fire safety objective is to look after the building occupants and ensure they can evacuate the building quickly and safely.
Heavy industrial sites – these high-risk industrial facilities may contain fuel terminals and chemicals that can cause large explosions. These sites require specialist solutions for chemical fires and emergency equipment such as breathing apparatus.
Storage warehouses – sites with stored goods that are highly flammable can cause large fires due to the volume of items that are stacked high and require fire safety solutions that can address different materials.
OTHER FIRE SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS
1) Installing adequate fire protection equipment
Fire protection equipment can include basic fire extinguishers, fire hose reels and passive fire solutions, or more advanced fire detection and suppression systems. There should also be smoke alarms, fire blankets and emergency warning systems installed in every facility.
Most buildings will have fire hose reels installed. These provide an accessible and controlled supply of water to help combat a potential Class A fire risk, such as a fire started by burning wood or paper.
Additionally, fire sprinklers, water spray, mist or deluge solutions can be tailored to suit the requirements of a specific building. They can automatically detect and suppress a fire, as well as transmit an alarm to alert the building’s occupants and the fire brigade.
Several fire doors will also be in place, which can help to contain fire and stop flames spreading throughout a building. It’s therefore essential that building occupants understand the importance of keeping fire doors closed at all times. Many buildings will also have a range of fire extinguishers such as powder, carbon dioxide, water, foam and wet chemical to work on different types or classes of fire.
2) Servicing and maintaining equipment
Complete reliability is essential when it comes to fire protection systems and equipment. As with any safety equipment, regular inspections will ensure equipment functions effectively if and when needed, and meets compliance with relevant legislation and applicable Australian Standards.
3) Having an evacuation plan
It is absolutely vital for facility managers to have fire safety and evacuation processes firmly in place. Evacuation plans and routes must be shared with occupants and exit signage should be clearly marked. With building occupancies likely to grow or change on a regular basis, having a system in place for educating newcomers is also essential.
If you don’t have an existing fire safety and evacuation process, or it needs to be updated, start by conducting a thorough assessment
of the building’s specific contents, occupancy, operation and fire hazards as a first step to determine the most appropriate process.
4) Staff training
Everyone working within a facility should know how to respond during a fire emergency and how to use the on-site fire equipment. Responding appropriately in the event of a fire can substantially reduce the impact of a crisis. A confident team that is able to do so is an invaluable investment and can substantially reduce the impact of a crisis.
5) Fire safety standards
Australian legislation and standards relating to fire safety do change regularly and also vary across the Australian states and territories. If you are in New South Wales, for example, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulations (2000) demand that each year an annual fire safety statement (AFSS) is prepared by a building’s owner or their authorised representative, then submitted to the respective local governing authority. Nationally, smoke alarms must be compliant to Australian Standard, AS 3786-1993 Smoke Alarms. Visit Standards Australia for the latest information.
6) Fire protection specialists
Fire protection specialists can provide professional advice, helping to take the stress out of maintaining fire protection systems
and provide peace of mind for management. Wormald is a leading provider of fire protection solutions in Australia and has been helping to protect people and property for more than 125 years. For more details visit www.wormald.com.au or call 133 166. ●
Matt Sulley is national manager, Wormald. Click here for Wormald’s fire safety checklist.
This article also appears in the October/November issue of FM magazine.
Lead image: 123RFs Nathapol Boonmangmee © 123RF.com