According to the most recent data collected by the New Zealand Fire Service, around 1000 fires occur in commercial buildings each year. In order to protect your employees and your assets, you need to know how to plan for a workplace fire. This will involve installation of fire protection equipment, regular fire safety testing, and an emergency evacuation plan.
Source: The New Zealand Fire Service factsheet.
Fire Evacuation Plan
If you’re unsure how to plan for a workplace fire, a great place to start is with an evacuation plan. Every business needs an emergency plan that will guide staff to safety during a fire. You can start the planning process by identifying which member of your organisation is responsible for safety. After this person has been nominated, they can complete a list of company contacts and emergency services.
After collecting this information, you will need to nominate an emergency assembly point. Choosing an evacuation assembly area will involve some risk assessment. You need to choose a space that is large enough to contain all staff members and potential visitors. The assembly point should be a safe distance away from a hazard, but also not so far that people will have trouble reaching it.
You should choose a space that is unlikely to be affected by a fire and is a safe distance away from your building (for example, a carpark or public park). It is a good idea to nominate a secondary gathering point in case your first choice is compromised for some reason. Make sure your staff are aware of your plans and encourage them to help others in the event of an emergency.
It might seem obvious, but you should make sure that employees know the first response to a fire should be calling the Fire Service (111). If the fire can be contained with the use of equipment, your staff may choose to extinguish the flame manually. This should only occur if the member of staff does not feel at risk and they know how to use the equipment safely.
Choose a clear escape route and make sure exit and emergency lights are installed and maintained.
- WorkSafe has a great template that can be used to plan all emergency procedures.
- For house fires, the New Zealand Fire Service has developed an Escape Planner app that is perfect for personal use.
Fire Safety Testing
Your fire action plan is no use if your protection equipment isn’t maintained. Regular testing of your fire blankets, fire extinguishers, and hose reels will ensure that your staff are protected if a fire should occur in your building.
In New Zealand, fire protection equipment testing is dictated by the current NZS 4503:2005 standard for hand operated fire-fighting equipment. If your equipment is maintained to this standard, your employees will have a functional response to a fire when they need it.
At Jim’s Test & Tag, we are safety testing and inspection professionals. We conduct fire equipment testing in locations across the nation. Our technicians are devoted to ensuring safety in commercial buildings and helping owners remain compliant.
This month, a group of staff members tried to control a flame in a popular wellington restaurant. They attempted to control the flame and called emergency services when the fire became too large. The Fire Service managed to control the flame in less than an hour thanks to the initial efforts of staff. This is a great example of what to do in an emergency. By having working extinguishers readily available, staff were able to address the emergency immediately. They exhibited great initiative in calling for help and evacuating when the risk became too high.
You can take note of this example when considering how to plan for a workplace fire. Encourage the same behaviour in your workplace by combining equipment maintenance with emergency planning and education.
Fire drills are a great way to test the functionality of your emergency plan. Educational facilities in New Zealand are required to carry out a trial evacuation at least once every 6 months. You can follow this example in your commercial business to ensure staff are refreshed at regular intervals.
An evacuation simulation can answer the following questions for your business:
- Do my staff know the assembly point?
- Were the evacuation paths clear?
- Was the fire protection equipment accessible?
- Are guests and staff members accounted for?
If all of your staff made it through the simulation you can be satisfied that you are prepared for a fire.
Now that you know how to plan for a workplace fire, get in touch with our testing technicians for an inspection of your fire safety equipment.