In Australian workplaces, emergencies happen every day and can provide a significant threat to life and property. The question many Health and Safety Reps ask is “How many fire wardens are required in the workplace”. This is a very relevant question and shouldn’t be set aside as being too hard to answer.
In this article, we will help HSRs and other managers make an informed decision when it comes to having enough emergency fire wardens to prepare for and respond to emergencies.
Determining the specific characteristics of a building
Every emergency is different. Even in two different office block that is designed similarly, it would be unlikely that one incident will be exactly the same as another. Therefore, we can look at some of the important aspects of design and occupancies which will give us an insight into the complexities of a building.
An oil refinery could be said to pose a very different risk than that of a manufacturing plant which sells directly to the public. So where to start the analysis. Firstly, let’s have a look at the buildings structural characteristics.
Determining the building classification and the specific use can indicate a lot. If a manufacturing process is hazardous then the potential for emergencies is far greater than systems and processes that are relatively benign.
Will the building code establish a framework to help assess risk
In Australia and most other western countries, building codes and regulations set rules and standards for developers and builders to follow. All designed to firstly keep occupants safe and secondly protect other structures if a given structure is compromised by fire or some other type of emergency.
An example of this might be that stairwells for a given multi-storey building are required to be fire-rated this allowing occupant to exit the structure if a fire occurs.
It would be important to mention here that the location of a building in relation to its proximity to other buildings can also have an impact on safety. This could also include the proximity of other hazards. Providing appropriate space between buildings can help to limit the spread of fire and the potential resulting damage from collapsing structures.
Really we could go on for many paragraphs when it comes to building design, but it essential that such characteristics and their associated risk factors are taken into account when planning for emergencies.
Here are some other characteristics of building design
- Unusual features
- Hazards to occupants and visitors
- Fire Safety features
- Management and use
Occupant and visitor characteristics
Again there are so many aspects to these features of the occupant but let’s just look at a few of the main ones.
Some of the questions one might ask are;
- What is their age and gender – very young and very old people may be less mobile than the general populations
- Hearing or vision ability and mental health issues
- Ability to interpret instruction during an evacuation
- Level of assistance required to evacuate a given building
- Are the occupants familiar with the layout of a building and are they asleep or awake
- Do shift schedules make occupancy rate hazardous at a certain time of the day
There are many variables that may need to be considered and the appropriate Australian Standards and building codes are designed to provide guidance. They also provide authorities with a method of enforcement when practitioners don’t follow established guidelines.
So the next question – How many fire wardens are required in the workplace
Once a risk assessment is completed it’s then important to look at the occupancy rates. As mentioned before the nature of occupancy is also important. In a manufacturing environment that produces products with hazardous machinery, the numbers of fire wardens may be a ratio of 2:20.
Whereas in a shopping centre environment the emergency warden per occupant may reach as high as 1:100 or even greater. In a shopping centre, each shop owner may have a warden role to varying degrees.
In a very high hazard environment for example during live electrical work. A spotter may be required at a ratio of 1:1.
So as can be seen there is no one size fits all. Professional guidance should be the sort to establish an appropriate ratio for a business and account for both structural and occupancy characteristics.
Does emergency warden training affect the ratio
Training is one important aspect of preparing for emergencies and there should be a reference to training coordination in the emergency management plan.
It’s very hard to cover the requirements and assess an individual as competent in a 4-hour emergency fire warden course. Some basic firefighting recruit course is 20 to 25 weeks full time. Even though, it’s problematic and inappropriate to compare emergency workers with emergency fire wardens. The better an overall training programs is the more competent a warden will be.
Mentorship and general testing will build confidence and help emergency wardens perform their role much better than just simply completing a fire warden course.
The ratio of wardens and how its works
|Occupancy:||Structural:||Number of Wardens:||Other|
|20||Small Factory||3 (plus Chief)||1 fire Compartment|
|50||Small Office||2 (plus Chief)||1 fire Compartment|
|100||Large factory||8 (plus Chief)||2 Fire Compartments|
|200||Large Office||6 (plus Chief)||3 Fire Compartments|
|300||Small Shopping Centre||6 (plus Chief)||3 Fire Compartment|
|1000||Very Large Factory||15 (plus Chief)||1 x Emergency Response Team (per shift)|
|2000||Very large Shopping Center||15 (plus Chief)||Multiple compartments|
The above is just a guide and should not be used without consulting a professional emergency manager. Occupant flow towards and out exits will be another aspect of determining the appropriate numbers.
The emergency response team (ERT) require far greater training than the normal emergency warden and may work beside the emergency services to help combat the situation.
It is important to consult the appropriate standards and codes to ensure compliance with established standards. Even so, the objective of any preparedness, response and recovery will be to keep people safe and minimise the impact on property and the environment.