In Australian workplaces, emergencies happen every day and can provide a significant threat to life and property. Many Health and Safety Reps (HSR) ask, “How many fire wardens should we have in the workplace”? A vital emergency management question that is often set aside as being too hard to answer.

In this article, we will help HSRs and other managers make an informed decision regarding having enough emergency fire wardens to prepare for and respond to emergencies.

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

Above is just a guide and shouldn’t be used without consulting a professional emergency manager. Occupant flow towards and out exits will be another aspect of determining the appropriate numbers.

Determining the specific characteristics of a building

Every emergency is different. For example, for two other office blocks with similar designs, it would be unlikely that one incident will be the same as another. Therefore, we can look at some of the crucial aspects of design and occupancies, giving us insight into the complexities of a building.

An oil refinery could pose a very different risk than that of a manufacturing plant that 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 with relatively benign processes.

emergency management 02

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. Generally designed to keep occupants safe and secondly protect other structures if compromised by fire or some other type of emergency.

An example of this might be that stairwells for a given multi-storey building must be fire-rated, allowing occupants to exit the structure if a fire occurs.

It would be essential to mention here that the location of a building concerning its proximity to other structures can also impact safety. The proximity of other hazards may also be an issue. Providing appropriate space between buildings can help to limit the spread of fire and the potential resulting damage from collapsing structures.

We could go on for many paragraphs regarding building design, but such characteristics and their associated risk factors requiring consideration 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 many aspects of occupancy that we must consider. Let us look at a few of the main ones.

Some of the questions one might ask are;

  • What are their age and gender – very young and significantly older adults 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 the occupancy rate hazardous at a particular time of the day.

Many variables may need consideration, and appropriate Australian Standards and building codes 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.

When completing a risk assessment, it’s then important to look at the occupancy rates. As mentioned before, the nature of occupancy is also essential. In a manufacturing environment that produces products with hazardous machinery, the number of fire wardens may be a ratio of 2:20.

Consider a shopping centre environment, the emergency warden per occupant may reach as high as 1:100 or even more significant. 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. There may be a requirement for a spotter 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 a critical aspect of preparing for emergencies, and there should be a reference to training coordination in the emergency management plan.

It’s tough to cover the requirements and assess an individual as competent in a 4-hour emergency fire warden course. Some introductory 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 program is, the more competent a warden will be.

Mentorship and general testing will build confidence and help emergency wardens perform their roles much better than simply completing a fire warden course.

Low Voltage Rescue Victoria


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 essential to consult the appropriate standards and codes to ensure compliance with established standards. The objective of any preparedness, response and recovery will be to keep people safe and minimise the impact on property and the environment.  

Main Fire Warden Post – Click here.

By Ken Walker

Hi, I'm Ken. I am the owner and senior director of Syncretic training Group Pty Ltd. If you have any questions about the website content or require guidance please let us know we are always happy to help.

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