Fire Risks and Precautions at Workplace

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By Dr Moses Amweelo Every year hundreds of people die and many properties are damaged in fire-related incidents which could have been easily prevented with just a little thought and action by all people concerned.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Fire is one of the biggest causes of death and severe injuries within our communities.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ In 2003 we experienced damage caused by fire to the Government Office Complex in Ondangwa. The concept of work safety in itself is one of uncertainty.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Absolute safety does not exist.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Human activity will always and certainly involve risks. The concept of fire is also an uncertainty.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Unwanted combustion is perhaps the least predictable common physical phenomenon.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ The reliability of manufactured or fabricated systems for fire suppression and confinement is yet another source of uncertainty or risk.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ In order for the client to make meaningful and informed decisions regarding these risks, it is necessary that they be analyzed.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Therefore, the purpose of this article is to touch on these risks and safety elements in order to be able to recognize them timeously and to institute preventative measures when and where so required. It is sometimes difficult to enforce authority outside the jurisdiction of the workplace simply because of the scarcity of resources.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  This comes in the form of inspectors carrying out inspections of premises, thus safety representatives have a major role to play in the monitoring of existing fire safety measures as well as devising improvement methods as the need may arise.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Therefore, safety representatives should find out what fire safety standards are applicable in their workplaces and make improvements where needed.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ All safety representatives need to be aware of potential or existing fire hazards and fire safety precautions to be applied in the workplace. Thorough emergency plans for all hazardous operations occurring in the workplace should be readily available for immediate application in an effort to either stop incidents happening or minimize the risks on incidents caused by dangerous substances before it gets out of hand.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Such emergency plans should be specified as follows: -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Notification and alerting procedures -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Identification of: on-scene-coordinator(s), evacuation procedures and identification of resource inventory methods. According to the Regulations on the Health and Safety of Employees at Work, Labour Act, 1992 (No. 6 of 1992) an employer shall for the purpose of a fire at the workplace: -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  submit a plan and system of escape; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  provide adequate means of escape routes from the building; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  a door of a room in which persons are employed be kept clear and unlocked; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  means of escape and fire escape routes to be used in case of a fire shall be clearly marked. In a coordinated action plan, all participating agencies, departments and undertakings will deputize a senior officer to join a general management team for the proper coordination of all efforts in order to bring an appropriate emergency under control in the shortest possible time thereby ensuring that equipment and material are dispatched to the scene of the incident according to the prescribed emergency plan in place. Always remember that “protection of life” is the foremost consideration. In reality it is better to talk about: -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  fire prevention, which means discovering a fire at a very early stage; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  preventing the fire from spreading; and -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  a quick start of fire-fighting operations. An early discovery and a slow spreading of fire and smoke lengthen the time available for evacuation of people.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  An early start of fire-fighting operations reduces damage to property and thereby the total costs. Only a limited number of tactics can be applied to control any emergency, such as rescue of the injured or endangered persons, extinguishing ignited material, limiting exposure and using continuously additional upgraded resources.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Portable fire extinguishers are first-aid equipment against fire.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  By having an effective and easily handled extinguisher at hand, it shall be possible to come to the rescue and manage the initial stage of a fire and thereby prevent enormous damage. Fire-Fighting Methods There are many examples of a prompt action with a portable fire extinguisher, which can in the fire’s initial stage prevent the development of big fires.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  A fire is normally extinguished through: cooling, suffocating, inhibition, isolating, jettisoning, counterbalancing, displacement, emulsion and smothering.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The increased use of modern interior materials contribute to the acceleration of fire and smoke which in turn warrants an ever-increasing demand for the availability and effectiveness of the use of portable fire extinguishers. In the case of existing buildings not equipped with portable fire extinguishers, the municipal rescue chief can, based on the rescue service legislation, request the fitting of extinguishing equipment. Normally, only buildings located within areas of not more than 10 minutes arrival time for the Municipal Fire Brigade can be exempted from installing first-aid equipment.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  A fire needs heat, fuel and oxygen in order to burn.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Remove any leg of this “triangle” and a fire cannot occur.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The fuel for fires can come in the form of flammable solids, liquids or gases.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Liquid fuels burn more intensely than solid fuels because they vapourize more readily.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ The vapour from a liquid fuel is also heavier than air.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ It is extremely dangerous because it will seek low places, dissipate slowly and travel to distant sources of ignition.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Flammable gases on the other hand, are already in the vapour state required for ignition in intermixing with oxygen and a sources of heat. Employers must ensure that their employees are familiar with the action to be taken in the event of a fire outbreak.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  This will mean that regular training and fire drills will be undertaken.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The frequency of fire drills and training periods should be properly recorded in a logbook.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  In general, the instruction and training should provide for the following: -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  the action to be taken upon discovering a fire; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  the action to be taken upon hearing the fire alarm; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  raising the alarm, including the location of alarm call points, internal fire alarm telephones and alarm indicator panels; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  the correct method of calling the fire brigade; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  the location and the use of fire-fighting equipment; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  a clear directive of the escape routes; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  the importance of fire doors and the need to close all doors in the event of a fire outbreak and on hearing the fire alarm; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  the stopping of machinery and processes; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  the isolation of power suppliers where appropriate; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  and finally, evacuation of the building. This means that certain staff members will require additional training, for example supervisors, general services managers, engineering and maintenance staff, chemists, security staff and telephonists.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Special instruction may also be necessary for people who work after hours, (outside normal working hours), e.g. night watchmen, cleaning staff and maintenance staff.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Fire drills should be held at least once a year depending on the type and degree of risk involved. The training needs should therefore also cover the use of fire extinguishers and the extinguishing media which are used in portable fire extinguishers such as water, foam, dry powder and carbon dioxide. Not all extinguishers are suitable for all types of fire, e.g. water should not be used on electrical fires or burning liquids.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Training should include the correct choice and use of extinguishers. Special consideration should also be given to the needs of disabled staff members caught in fire situations.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Some aspects to consider are: -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  identify staff members who may need special assistance to evacuate the building; -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  allocate responsibility to specific able-bodied staff members to assist disabled staff in cases of emergency; – consider and plan the best escape routes for disabled staff. Top 10 Safety Tips Have you ever wondered what you would do if there was a fire in your home or at your workplace? Why it is important to have a fire escape plan? How to Make Your Home or Workplace a Safe Place -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Make a fire action plan so that everyone in your house or workplace knows how to escape in the event of fire. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Take care when cooking with hot oil and think about using thermostatically controlled deep fat fryers. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Never leave lit candles unattended -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Ensure cigarettes are stubbed out and disposed of carefully. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Never smoke in bed. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Keep matches and lighters away from children. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Keep clothing away from heating appliances. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Take care in the kitchen! Accidents whilst cooking account for 59% of fires in the home. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Take special care when you are tired or when you have been drinking.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ Half of all deaths in domestic fires happen between 10 pm and 8 am. -ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  You should know the fire Department Emergency number. NB!!! Fire-fighters want you and your colleagues to be safe from fire. But they can’t do it alone. So what are you waiting for? “Team Up for Safety” and develop and practise a home fire escape plan or workplace fire escape plan. ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 

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