Fire safety rules, emergency response plan critical

16th April 2010 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Companies in South Africa must enforce fire safety rules and must have an emergency response plan. This includes training staff on how to act in the event of an emergency, keeping records of fire and safety drills and checking fire protection equipment, says fire safety organisation South African Fire and Medical Academy (Safma) director Mark Ackers.

“Fire prevention starts with people knowing what a company’s emergency response plan is. All companies must practise safety drills twice a year, as mandated, and keep a record of safety practices,” he says.

Companies must evaluate their compliance with occupational health and safety laws and staff must be trained to understand safety laws and emergency response plans. Employees who are motivated to comply with safety rules become an integral part of a company’s emergency response plan, Ackers says.

However, companies must design emergency plans that are specific to their needs and effective in their work environments, such as taking into account the layout of their premises and the placement of fire protection equipment, such as fire extinguishers.

Knowledgeable staff understand that extinguishers are placed in certain areas for specific reasons and should not be moved. Certain types of extinguishers are placed to extinguish certain categories of fire. Moving extinguishers may result in an extinguisher not being effective in the event of a fire, as well as safety officers not having a record of where extinguishers are in a building, Ackers explains.

Changing the attitude of employees and improving their commitment to fire safety decrease instances of tampering with fire equipment and lead to an improvement in safety record keeping.

Although, fire safety starts at home, employees who are trained in safety protocol can take their knowledge into their homes and communities, which leads to an increase in fire safety practices, he adds.

In taking safety practices out of the workplace, Safma’s school fire safety training programme trains students from grade 10 to grade 12 in fire safety and first aid prac- tices. The academy has trained 1 700 students in 97 schools.

“This [training] is working well and the academy aims to make individuals, as well as local government, aware of fire safety procedures. We would also like to see more fire drills held in vulnerable communities because most fires occur in residential areas,” he explains.

Meanwhile, Ackers believes that an emerging trend in South Africa is that people are more aware of their right to safety at work and at home. There is an increasing understanding that municipalities must have rigorous fire safety procedures and that buildings must be constructed in accordance with fire safety standards.

As part of the emerging trend, Safma has changed from using the UK system of fire safety training standards to the US National Fire Prevention Association standards. However, there is also increased importance being placed on developing local protocol, such as the classification of fire extinguishers and the monitoring of equipment. South Africa needs to further develop its local fire safety protocols to reinforce international safety practices, Ackers adds.

He believes that a part of local protocol could be installing fire and smoke detectors in homes. These systems provide warning when a fire has started, allowing swifter response. The systems are not expensive, ranging from R100 to R150, but will add value to the efforts that protect people from fires, he concludes.