Fire Fighting In The Workplace

In just a few seconds, a small fire can become completely out of control and turn into a major emergency. There are few jobs in the world that compare to the dangers a firefighter has to face, especially within companies who deal with flammable material on a daily basis.

A fire can pose immediate dangers that cause massive damage, and it is important to have the correct number of firefighters available to deal with an emergency. There is no definite number of firefighters a company needs, this can only be determined by the type of hazards a company faces, as well as the number of staff within the company.  It is, however, good practice within large companies to have a firefighter per department should anything go wrong.

There is legislation in place that requires an employer to provide sufficient fire fighting equipment and safety rules to keep their employees safe. 
According to the SANS 10400:
4.32 Provision and maintenance of fire-fighting equipment, installations and fire protection systems
4.32.1 Any fire-fighting equipment, installations and fire protection systems in any building shall be so installed and maintained as to be ready for their purpose at all times.
4.32.2 The disposition of such fire-fighting equipment shall be clearly visible at all times or shall be indicated by symbolic signs which shall be visible at all times and comply with the requirements in SANS 1186-1.
4.32.3 Such fire equipment shall be so installed that it facilitates maintenance. Where compartments are created to house this equipment, they should not impede maintenance. The employer therefore has to consider how many fire extiguishers per square metre they have available in the workplace.

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Contractors must take all necessary measures to prevent personal injury or death or
damage to the works or other property, including but not limited to:

(a) provision of firefighting facilities in all vulnerable areas and as instructed by the Engineer.

(b) marking escape routes and illuminating them if necessary.

(c) instructing workmen in fire precautions and use of firefighting equipment.

(d) displaying notices on fire safety and procedures in the event of a fire on Site.

As per the Environmental Regulations for Workplaces, 1987 - Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993.

Fire Precautions and means of egress:
Section 9:

(1) In order to expedite the evacuation of a workplace in case of fire, every employer shall ensure that -

(a)  any emergency escape door from any room or passage or at a staircase shall, as far as is practicable, be hung so as to open outwards;
(b)  every door of a room in which persons may be present, and every door of a passage or at a staircase serving as a means of exit from such room, shall be kept clear and capable of being easily and rapidly opened from inside so as to ensure quick and easy evacuation;
(c)  the provisions of paragraphs (a) and (b) shall also be complied with in respect of the outer escape exit from the workplace;
(d)  staircases and steps leading from one floor to another or to the ground shall be provided with substantial hand-rails;
(e)  staircases intended to be used as fire escapes shall -

(i)  be constructed of non-combustible material;
(ii)  be kept clear of any material or other obstruction; and
(iii)  not terminate in an enclosed area;

(f)  staircases, passages and exits intended for escape purposes shall be of a width and of a gradient which will facilitate the quick and safe egress of the number of persons intended to make use of them; and
(g)  having regard to the size, construction and location of a workplace, the number of persons, and the activity therein, such workplace is provided with at least two means of egress situated as far apart as is practicable.

(2)  Having regard to the size, construction and location of the workplace, and the amount and type of flammable articles uses, handled or stored on the premises,  an employer shall provide on the premises an adequate supply of suitable fire-fighting equipment at strategic locations or as may be recommended by the fire chief of the local authority concerned, and such equipment shall be maintained in good working order.

As important as fire emergency equipment is, knowing which equipment to use and how to use it is essential.

In the event of a fire, there must be someone who is trained and knows how to react without causing panic.

Employers need to ensure that all employees know what to do in the case of a fire.  This includes the following:

  1. Regular fire drills to confirm that all staff know what to do and where to go in the shortest time possible.
  2. Basic fire fighting skills must be provided, such as how to put out an electrical fire as opposed to flames caused by oil.  Employees should also have basic instruction on how to operate fire extinguishers and hoses.
  3. Evacuation procedures and notifying fire and emergency services.
  4. Keeping windows and doors closed as far as possible to contain the fire.

One portable fire extinguisher should be installed per 100 square metres in moderate to high-risk industrial or commercial premises.  Most fires are caused by faulty electricity, open flames, heated surfaces, matches and cigarettes, friction, chemical reactions and spontaneous combustion.  The more an organisation is exposed to these hazards, the more precautions need to be taken.

Every year, there are over 35 000 fires in workplaces in South Africa.  Many of these could be avoided if fire safety was properly managed.  Regular Risk Assessments, ongoing training, and taking precautionary measures are key areas that must be managed by your Health and Safety Department.

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Posted date: 10th May 2022
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