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Fire safety in the workplace


1. Introduction
Every year, there are over 300 fires in workplaces in South Africa, putting people at risk and damaging property. Many of these could be avoided if fire safety was properly managed.
This article explains how you, the employer, can reduce the risk of fire in your workplace and what you have to do to keep to the laws relating to fire issues.
You may also find this article useful if you are: self-employed; an employee; a representative for employees; in control of workplaces which people you do not employ or members of the public have access to; or any other person who has a role in managing fire safety in the workplace.

2. Responsibilities
If you are an employer or you own premises, you have a legal duty to make sure that your workplace or premises and the people who work there are kept safe from fire and its effects.
You can do this by:
• carrying out a fire risk assessment for your workplace;
• using the risk assessment to find out who might be especially at risk if there was a fire (you must keep a record of this information if you employ five or more people);
• providing and maintaining the necessary fire precautions to protect the people who use your workplace; and
• providing information, instructions and training to your employees about the fire precautions in your workplace.

3. How do fires start?
For a fire to start, the three things in the triangle below are needed.





If any one of these is missing, a fire cannot start. So, taking steps to avoid the three coming together will reduce the chances of a fire happening.

4. What do you need to do?
You need to carry out a fire risk assessment for your workplace.

What is a risk assessment?
Carrying out a risk assessment simply means looking at what, in your work activities and workplace, could cause harm to people. This will allow you to decide whether you have taken enough precautions or need to do more to avoid harm.

What do the terms ‘hazard’ and ‘risk’ mean?
A hazard is something that could cause harm (for example, a hot surface). The risk is the chance of that hazard causing harm, together with an idea of how serious the harm could be.

Why do I need to carry out a fire risk assessment?
A fire risk assessment will help you to decide: what the chances are of a fire starting in your workplace; whether a fire in your workplace would put people in danger; whether your existing fire precautions are suitable; or whether more precautions are required.
How do I carry out a fire risk assessment?
There are five simple steps involved in carrying out a fire risk assessment.
Step 1: Identify possible fire hazards in your workplace.
Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how.
Step 3: Assess the risks and decide what precautions to take.
Step 4: Record what you find, tell your employees and make the necessary improvements.
Step 5: Review your fire risk assessment and update it if necessary.

When carrying out your risk assessment:
• use your and your employees’ knowledge and experience to identify fire hazards in the workplace;
• remember to consider work processes that could cause a fire, such as welding or grinding;
• take the whole of the workplace into account, including outdoor locations and rooms you rarely use;
• for small premises, you can assess the workplace as a whole;
• for larger premises, it will help to divide the workplace into zones such as offices, stores and stairways; and
• if you share your premises with other businesses, discuss your risk assessment with them.

5. Fire detection and warning
You must have an effective way of:
• detecting any fires; and
• warning people in your workplace quickly enough to allow them to escape to a safe place.

Detecting a fire
You should decide whether you need to install automatic fire detectors or smoke alarms. These may not be necessary in smaller workplaces.
Warning about a fire
In smaller workplaces, where all exits are clearly marked and employees only need to travel a short distance to escape, you may only need to give a shouted warning.
If employees are spread out over a wider area and you cannot guarantee that they will hear a shouted warning, you could use a manually operated sounder (for example, a rotary gong or a hand bell).
Larger premises may need an electrical alarm system with manual call points.
If there is a lot of background noise in your workplace or you have an employee with a hearing problem, you may also need to install a visual alarm, such as a distinctive flashing or rotating light.

6. Maintaining and testing fire precautions
You must keep fire safety measures and equipment in the workplace in effective working order. This includes the following:
• Fire detection and alarm systems
• Firefighting equipment
• Fire doors
• Stairways
• Corridors
• Emergency lighting
• Fire notices
You will need to:
• appoint a competent person (someone with the necessary knowledge, experience and ability) to carry out regular checks, servicing and maintenance, whatever the size of the workplace;
• put any faults right as quickly as possible;
• keep a record of the work carried out;
• carry out regular fire drills; and
• appoint a competent person to act as fir e warden, both during fire drills and if there is a fire.

7. Conclusion
At Secutron Fire & Integrated Systems, fire protection is one of our company’s main areas of expertise. For more information on and/or assistance with your fire protection system, please contact us on +27 12 997 3139.