Investing in the correct fire fighting equipment can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, and can also save millions of rands in unnecessary fire damages.
South Africa was shocked by the death of 3 professional firefighters in Johannesburg in a building fire. It is a devastating and horrible reality, of the effects of a raging fire. We will always remember the bravery and commitment that our firefighters have and how they put their lives on the line, to protect us and our assets.
Although every business is different and has unique fire hazards, every business has an ethical obligation and legal requirement to provide the correct firefighting equipment on the business premises. Some companies may need additional and more extensive fire fighting equipment, such as companies handling flammable substances like oil, petrol or other chemicals. There is, however, key and minimum firefighting equipment needed in every organisation, whether you are in an office environment, a warehouse or a factory. There are South African National Standards and SABS regulations which determine the minimum fire fighting equipment needs and requirements.
In South Africa there are over a 1000 reported fire incidents, thousands of calls made to fire brigade and hundreds of deaths reported every year. Many business owners think that the current health and safety regulatory demands placed on their business have gone too far, but the statistics on fires and fatality realities caused by fires, tell a different story. In addition, these losses highlight the importance and need for reliable firefighting equipment such as extinguishers, hose reels and hydrants, to enable trained company staff and bystanders to use and extinguish fires quickly before they become uncontrollable.
COMMON FIRE HAZARDS AND THE NEED FOR FIRE FIGHTING EQUIPMENT
Cigarettes and smoking are one of the primary causes of fires and fire-related deaths. It is a legally regulated requirement that smoking takes place only in designated smoking areas that have ashtrays and are generally free of fire hazards. There should also be fire fighting equipment such as a 4.5 kg DCP fire extinguisher placed at the smoking area.
Fireplaces are another fire hazard and must, therefore, be well maintained. Remember that chimneys must be free of structural damage and made from non-combustible materials. Do not use gasoline, kerosene, or lighter fuels to ignite fireplaces or barbeques. There must also be a screen or glass in front of the fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting carpets or curtains. Place the fire extinguisher not far from the fireplace, so it is in easy reach if a fire starts.
Paraffin heaters are another cause of many fire-related disasters and must also be well maintained and correctly used:
- These heaters must have a safety or shut-off valve.
- Use only correct, approved paraffin.
- Never leave the heater on or unattended while you are asleep.
- Always fill the unit outside, and only when cool.
Faulty Electrics: Faulty electrics are one of the common cause of workplace fires, such as loose wires, old equipment and plugs that are overloaded are serious fire hazards.
Cooking safely is a household habit that should be explained and taught to everyone. Here are some important fire prevention tips:
- Never leave a stove on and unattended, especially when cooking with oils.
- Do not use the stove as a room-heating device, but only as a cooking device.
- Be aware of loose clothing, drying towels, dishcloths, and hand gloves catching fire.
- Do not try to extinguish oil or grease fires with water; rather try smothering the flame with a fire blanket or CO2 extinguisher.
- Turn pot or pan handles away from the front of the stove, as hot water or hot oil may spill and ignite, or cause severe burn injuries.
- If using a microwave and something ignites inside, do not open the door. Rather, keep the door closed and switch off the unit, as opening the door will oxygenate the fire and make it larger.
More common causes of fire hazards:
- Heat generating appliances and machiner
- Cooking equipment (oil fryers, etc.)
- Smoking near flammable substances
- Storage and handling of flammable and/or combustibles
- Open flames (hot flames)
- Poorly maintained vehicles and equipment
- Short circuits on electrical boards or cables
- Water leakage over live electrical appliances
It is very important to have health and safety compliance, proper accredited fire fighting training courses and correct equipment take a top priority in every workplace. Many deaths and injuries from fires are the results of poorly maintained premises that do not fire safety compliant, people not knowing and not being trained in correct fire prevention programs and having the correct firefighting equipment available. It is the responsibility of every employer and health and safety committee to ensure at all times that their employees are equipped with the proper training, knowledge and fire fighting equipment to confidently try and extinguish fires since no one ever expects a fire to happen in the workplace.
Essential fire fighting equipment needed in every office:
- Fire extinguisher: For most people, fire extinguishers are invisible red cans on walls, never looked at and rarely considered. We are never sure if they work and how they actually work. When it comes to a fire emergency, this will be your number one go-to piece of fire fighting equipment. They are truthfully the difference between a minor fire problem turning into a devastating raging inferno. A small electrical fire can lead to a building being burnt to the ground if no working fire extinguishers are available. Make sure that the fire extinguishers in your building have been serviced annually and are in good condition and you and your colleagues know how to use them.
- Smoke detector: We know, where there is smoke there is fire. But smoke is usually a preamble to fire and if smoke can be detected early, so can a fire. When no one is around, a smoke detector can be your saving grace to detect a fire hazard and sound the alarm in a call centre or security room. Most fire victims actually die from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases, and not actually from burns. A fire alarm stands guard around the clock, and when it first senses smoke, it sounds a shrill alarm which activates the health and safety and response team, or bystanders which can then use the fire fighting equipment.
- Evacuation alarm: It is important that when there is a fire hazard, that employees evacuate the building as soon as possible. Employees should also be familiar with a fire drill and evacuation plan so that when there is a real threat, employees don’t panic. There are centralized building fire alarm systems and Loud and Clear alarm horn, which are wall mounted and should be placed around the working environment. These early alarm devices allow for building evacuation and response of the health and safety and response team to the site of the alarm.
- Fire hose: These are an essential fire protection backup for a building’s sprinkler system. In case of a fire, tenants and occasionally firefighters will use the fire hose and accessories stored on site. A large fire can but extinguished with this high-pressure water system. This fire hose reel must be serviced annually in line with SABS / SANS requirements.
- First aid kit: If any employees have been harmed by fire, your first aider will be able to assist with burn shield or burn creams and bandages until the ambulance arrives and transports the patient for medical treatment. It is a law that all companies must have stocked regulation 7 first aid boxes in all buildings or offices.
Are you compliant with the OHS Act of South Africa? Take our Speedy Assessment to find out.
About us: Absolute Health Services (AHS) offer tailored Health and Safety Files, conduct company Health and Safety Compliance Assessments as well as detailed Health and Safety Risk Assessments. We offer accredited Health and Safety (H&S) training, ensuring that our clients receive current, professional and quality training. All our training instructors are paramedics registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa and have extensive practical operational experience and have specialised in First Aid, Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Firefighting and H&S training. Our training courses contain the latest theoretical course content and extensive practical content and scenario training, thereby ensuring both theoretical and practical exposure. Absolute Health Services has a team of Health and Safety graduates and practitioners that are able to assist organisations in implementing a holistic, logical and successful Health and Safety management service within their unique working environment.