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 Safety, Health and Environmental Regulations, Section 5.2:
The Contractor shall 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
(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 important as fire emergency equipment is, knowing which equipment to use and how to use it is essential. The law in South Africa stipulates that at least 1 out of 50 employees in an organisation must have basic fire fighting skills. In the event of a fire, there will 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:
- Regular fire drills to confirm that all staff know what to do and where to go in the shortest time possible.
- 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.
- Evacuation procedures and notifying fire and emergency services.
- 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 300 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 the Health and Safety department.
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