The Fire Safety Plan and Why Businesses Need One

Ken Walker

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During every risk mitigation activity and assessment a business undertakes. Inevitably there are two emergency types that will generally be front and centre. These are medical and fire emergencies. As a rule, the fire safety plan is often very obvious in a workplace.

Every workplace is different and some may have specific risks not associated with these two types of emergencies. Even so because of the general significance of fire in the workplace and away from work, we will concentrate on the fire safety action plan.

1. Why have a fire safety management plan?

In 2020 (up until the 12 of March) there have been 38 workplace fatalities in Australia. This is an increase of 6 fatalities as compared to the same time last year (January 01, 2019 to the 12 March, 2019). Workplaces are meant to be getting safer and one could expect that the fatality rate would be dropping. (Reference: Safe Work Australia).

Even though in Australia fire related statistics are few and far between. It is evident that to ensure relative safety of workers there is a real need to establish a fire safety plan for all businesses. Only 30% of Australian businesses have an appropriate plan designed to mitigate risks to occupants of buildings.

The practice of emergency planning whether for fire or some other type of emergency can be very complex. Many individuals make a career of planning and responding to emergencies and spend literally thousands of hours learning the critical components of their job.

In Australia we expect owners of a business, who often have little or limited experience in emergency planning, to manage the whole process. This would seem lacking when we expect those performing other critical roles like working with electricity. To be trained and licenced to carry out given tasks safely.

Most managers and those identified to be part of the Emergency Planning Committee (E.P.C) or Emergency Control Organisation (E.C.O.) take on a large responsibility. All with next to no training. Emergency Warden and Chief Warden training takes around one day to complete and as a community we then expect them to go off and respond to emergencies. Or plan for response and recovery from emergencies.

2. Filling in the gaps of emergency planning

As with all courses there is generally a requirement to be supervised while implementing the newly learnt activity. Of course this is dependent on the complexity of the training.

In relation to the fire safety plan in a facility there is a guiding document that can be used to fill many of the gaps. This document is called the Australian Standard 3745-2010. It is available online and even though very general, it is an enormous help to those responsible for emergency planning.

As of this writing the AS 3745-2010 cost around $220 to purchase. It is the view of many industry professionals that this document should be free to download. This would encourage persons conducting an undertaking or business to grab a copy as a reference and guide.

Some of the other gaps in emergency planning can be filled by the use of an experienced emergency manager. With appropriate qualifications and ideally experience responding to real emergencies. The implementation of some emergency activities can only be determined by participation. The business owner therefore can use these companies and individuals to help ensure a fire safety plan will be implemented effectively.

3. Who uses a fire safety plan.

One area that almost always has a plan is where vulnerable people congregate or reside. This could include aged care facilities, schools and other hostels.

Most people would remember the fire drills when they were at school. It was a bit of fun every time they occurred but was so important to test the plan using scenarios.

These facilities are often great at preparing and testing plans, but realise their limitations. One just has to Google “fire safety plan” and a variety of documents can be found and used with good effect. Again there will need to be some formalisation of the document to be effective.

High risk facilities also conduct emergency planning in a very effective manner. Including procedures for all responders to ensure that there is no misunderstanding during the emergency response phase. Many may say that these are high risk facilities and the chance of an emergency happening if far greater than the normal business. As the owner of a business how would you feel going to tell an employee’s family that their loved one has died as a result of an industrial accident. Hopefully in this situation business owners wouldn’t leave this function to the police.

Also, the trauma of a severe injury or fatality in the workplace can cause survivors a great deal of mental harm. Which will be with them forever. Many emergency workers often say that they wish they could unsee the things they have seen.

So I think with this we can simply determine that every business should have an emergency fire safety plan. Whether a high or low risk facility.

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4. What should a fire safety plan include?

Firstly, the formulation of a plan should start with a complete risk assessment relating to fire. Furthermore who is responsible for the response and most of all who will lead the response. The ultimate goal of every plan will be to reduce or eliminate the risk to life from fire.

Procedures may include the turning off of critical high hazard equipment and providing leadership in relation to evacuation. Thus ensuring that there is a calm and quick evacuation if required. If there is a risk of explosion in a workplace some planning may be given to the possibility of structural collapse including when a fire warden shouldn’t attempt to save someone.

The best fire safety plans in the world will not be able to determine the behaviour of every occupant or responder, but if the EPC expects and plans for the worst case scenario. Effective implementation is more likely.

Fire wardens or members of the E.C.O. may be tasked with combating a given fire until the fire department arrives. So extensive first attack training will be required. It is problematic if the first time a member uses a hose reel or fire extinguisher is in an emergency. There is one requirement for any fire fighting activities undertaken and that is that to fight the fire will be relatively safe (safe to do so) and in the scope of the members training.

Training for fires should always emphasize that occupant evacuation takes precedence over this activity. Unless the path is blocked by the fire or someone is trapped and can’t be removed. It would be essential that fire wardens communicate any problems to the Chief warden so critical information can be passed to the fire service on their arrival.

In conclusion

The amount of fire safety planning will always be determined by the initial risk assessment. As the health and safety of occupants and E.C.O members is critical there is a need to ensure that every person’s task with reponse responsibilities performs the role within their scope of training.

Schools and aged care facilities are planning and using emergency plans effectively and often provide an example for every business to follow. Employees and occupants are injured or die every day in Australian workplaces so it is therefore important that every person in a workplace plans for the worst case scenario of dealing with emergencies.

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