Fire Safety for Businesses

As a business owner or manager of your building, you know that adequate safety equipment should be in place. Fire protection is an essential element of building safety, but how much thought do you give to the full effect that just one fire could have on your business?

Protecting people is the number one consideration for businesses to avoid serious liability. You need to be prepared in order to minimise injury and prevent fatality in the event of a fire. However, any business that has experienced a fire knows that the aftermath can take far longer to battle through than the fire itself.

Fires can have devastating consequences and the damage can sometimes be irreparable. Expensive equipment and important data can be destroyed while property loss and damage can result in lengthy downtime as repairs and rebuilding need to be done. When planning for fire protection, business managers should develop a crisis management plan, giving careful consideration to how critical data is backed up and how they would operate if their premises were destroyed by fire.

At Aegis Safe, we try to educate Australian businesses on fire safety and fire prevention. If you are a business owner or manager, now is a good time to undertake a risk assessment of your premises. This will help identify potential fire hazards and guide you in taking necessary precautions. Consider the following fire safety checklist to assist you in preventing damage and liability at your business that could be caused by fire:

  • Take some time to research and select fire extinguishing products that carry the correct certification, approvals and/or ratings.
  • Install effective smoke alarms and an evacuation system.
  • Ensure that all fire protection equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire hose reels and smoke alarms is positioned correctly.
  • Ensure that all of your fire extinguishers, hose reels and smoke alarms have been serviced and maintained and are functioning properly.
  • Keep fire sprinkler heads free from obstruction.
  • Do not store combustible material such as cardboard boxes and paper near sources of heat or ignition.
  • Ensure flammable liquids and materials are stored safely.
  • Check that electrical appliances, equipment and machinery are in good condition and free from obvious defects or exposed wiring.
  • Do not overload electrical circuits or extension cords.
  • Ensure machinery and appliances are switched off when not in use.
  • Organise appropriate fire safety and evacuation training for staff and ensure evacuation procedures and fire escape plans are shared with each staff member.
  • Exit doors should be unlocked, clearly marked and free from obstruction.
  • Exit signs must be illuminated and emergency lights operating.
  • Regularly check your premises to make sure it is safe and secure.
  • Avoid storing or stockpiling flammable materials such as packaging materials or waste where they could be accessed by the public, including in areas immediately outside of your business premises.
  • Make sure all machinery is serviced as recommended by manufacturers and is kept clean. If possible, switch machinery off when the business is unattended.
  • Secure all doors, windows or other access points when the business is unattended, and make sure your business has adequate lighting to deter trespassers.
  • Ensure your business has an adequately serviced and functional fire alarm system that is suitable to your small business, e.g., remotely serviced alarm systems, sprinkler systems, thermal or smoke alarms, etc.
  • If your business stores dangerous goods, ensure their storage and use adheres to legislative requirements.
  • Make sure your business has a written and practised fire escape plan that includes full staff lists and designated meeting points.

Businesses need to have plans and procedures in place to prevent fires and to help their business recover should an unforeseen emergency occur. You should also check to make sure that your business has sufficient fire insurance.

Fire can spread out of control very quickly, particularly within large businesses and facilities. One option is to install an automatic fire suppression system, such as an automatic fire sprinkler system, which can help minimise property damage. Sprinkler systems can be linked to a facility’s fire or smoke detection system and, once activated, automatically release water to quickly suppress and control the spread of a fire.

When it comes to fire safety, careful planning is required. All fire hazards and risks should be assessed in order for the most appropriate fire protection system to be recommended and installed. Business managers must realise the impact that a fire can have on their business’ day-to-day operations and, subsequently, their bottom line.

FIRE DAMAGE RECOVERY CHECKLIST FOR BUSINESSES

We recommend the following checklist to assist you with reducing damage to your business in the aftermath of a fire and guiding you towards a speedy business recovery:

  • Ensure that all of your staff has sufficient training in what they should do if your small business were to be exposed to an unexpected fire.
  • Depending on your business, this will mean at least knowing your evacuation plan and the need to dial Triple Zero (000).
  • Make sure you know what information is important for your business continuity. This should include having contingency plans to protect and/or restore all important information (hard copies and electronic backup files), such as supplier and client lists, business contracts and insurance details.
  • Consider having an off-site secure location to store important information as a part of your recovery plan.

We have found that in the event of a fire, most businesses are primarily concerned about loss of life. It is surprising, however, that many businesses actually underestimate the impact a fire can have on their regular operations. A recently conducted survey found that only 50 per cent of businesses surveyed showed concern for damage to property, 31 per cent were concerned about loss of data or equipment and just 16 per cent are concerned about downtime while repairs and rebuilding take place.

As a business owner or manager, consider the impact a serious fire could have on your business. The results could be disastrous, and for some small businesses, the damage could be irreparable. Careful consideration given to fire protection is vital to help minimise the impact a fire could have on your customers, employees, property and business operations. Every business will have specific associated risks. In the study mentioned above it was found that of the businesses that had experienced a fire, 33 per cent were caused by electrical hazards and 32 per cent were caused by machinery. Both electrical and machinery fires commonly occurred when a premises was vacant.

Carrying out a building’s risk assessment will help identify potential fire hazards. A risk assessment will assist in determining the fire protection solutions required: whether it is a basic fire extinguisher, more readily available fire hose reels, a passive fire solution or a more advanced fire detection and suppression system.

Portable fire equipment, such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets and fire hose reels, are essential fire protection equipment for fighting fires, but to successfully operate the equipment, someone who is properly trained must physically be on the premises. As fire can spread out of control very quickly, particularly in large facilities, some building managers may choose to install an automatic fire suppression system such as an automatic fire sprinkler system. Fire suppression systems can be linked to a facility’s fire or smoke detection system. Once activated, they automatically release water to quickly suppress and control the spread of a fire. Sprinkler systems can help minimise damage to property and by controlling fire, thereby giving building occupants extra time to safely evacuate.

Consultation with a fire protection specialist will ensure that the most appropriate fire protection solutions are provided to protect you, your employees and customers and your business. It is important that the best available fire protection solution is in place, that adequate emergency signage is provided and that portable fire protection equipment is correctly positioned. Take, for example, a fire extinguisher – did you know that a water-based fire extinguisher should never be used on electrical equipment and electrical fires? These fires are best treated with a dry chemical fire extinguisher or a CO2 fire extinguisher. Staff should receive the necessary and specific fire safety training applicable to your business with portable fire extinguishers. This training will educate your staff on the types of fire extinguishers available and will provide practical training on which fire extinguisher to use and how to use it correctly.

Planning for fire protection is vital. We have put this guide together to help businesses learn more about and prepare for fire protection.

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