Training - an essential element of fire-protection planning

By By John Lynch, GM Business Support Services, Wormald
Monday, 24 October, 2011

Every year many Australian businesses experience a serious fire. The risk of fire in the workplace is a serious concern for businesses. Fire can result in injury, fatality, property loss, significant damages and lengthy downtime. Although it is not always possible to prevent a fire, businesses must be adequately prepared to help to minimise the impact if a fire was to occur.

Business owners and managers have a duty of care to provide a certain standard of safety in the workplace and to protect their workers. The safety of occupants is of the utmost importance, as minor mishaps can easily become serious threats to people, property and business reputations.

In addition to having the correct fire protection systems and equipment in place, business owners must also recognise the importance of investing in staff fire-safety training. Training helps to ensure that effective plans and procedures are formulated and ready to be executed if there is a fire. Management should make their employees aware of evacuation procedures, the latest regulations and how to use fire protection equipment so as to confidently manage an emergency situation.

Australian Standard, AS 3745 - 2010

To be prepared in the event of a fire, businesses should develop an effective fire prevention plan in accordance with the Australian Standard, AS 3745 - 2010 Planning for Emergencies in Facilities. Emergency-related training is a vital element of this fire-prevention plan. The standard outlines the minimum requirements for the development of the emergency plan and also provides guidance for the planning and implementation of an effective emergency planning committee (EPC), emergency control organisation (ECO) and emergency response procedures.

The purpose of the ECO is to provide guidance to management and staff that places them in the best position to quickly and adequately respond to an actual or potential emergency on their premises or nearby. Those appointed to the ECO have the responsibility for ensuring that all relevant personnel are trained for their role in an emergency and could manage the situation until appropriate emergency services arrive.

Recent amendments to AS 3745 have made it mandatory that training is conducted for at least one member of the EPC, for the ECO and for the facility occupants. Furthermore, ECO members must attend skills-retention training every six months.

Why train?

Businesses invest significantly in fire-safety solutions in the form of fire-protection systems and equipment to help minimise the impact of fire to people and property. Thorough assessments must be carried out to identify if the installed fire-protection equipment and systems are up to the job. This can include fire extinguishers, fire-hose reels, fire hydrants, fire-detection systems, gaseous suppression systems and sprinkler systems.

In addition to having a comprehensive and effective fire-management system in place, it is equally important to have an effective response and evacuation procedure and a trained emergency response team.

When a fire breaks out, the highest priority is to get the occupants of a building out of harm’s way. The trained staff will provide the best chance for this to happen in a methodical and efficient manner. Fire safety training is a vital step towards protecting the occupants of a building and it provides staff with the knowledge, skills and confidence to make the right decisions and act quickly in the event of a workplace fire.

The impact of a crisis can be substantially reduced when people are trained to respond appropriately. Employers must ensure that each employee is familiar with the emergency procedures in the workplace.

What’s available?

Every piece of fire safety equipment is very specific and training should be provided to those responsible for using them. Furthermore, those closest to fire safety equipment should have a basic understanding of its operation.

Training is an essential line of defence against fire and can provide employees with an awareness of how different types of fires can start. It can also instil in them the confidence required to respond effectively. Below is an outline on some of the courses available:

Warden training: A company’s fire warden has a considerable amount of responsibility for everyone’s wellbeing in the event of a fire. Warden training is highly beneficial for equipping wardens with the skills and knowledge to carry out their duties in an emergency situation. Courses typically cover emergency procedures, site familiarisation, understanding fire-protection equipment and how to use fire extinguishers. There is also the opportunity to take this training further, for example addressing how a warden should respond in the event of a bomb threat.

Wardens working in premises where emergency warning and communication systems are installed are also recommended to undertake training on how to use these systems so as to understand their duties and responsibilities and how to accurately keep records.

Emergency awareness training: While not everyone within an office building has the same responsibilities as the warden and the ECO team, all staff should have a basic understanding of how to react safely in an emergency situation. Should a fire occur, anyone could be required to help others safely out of the building. In this type of course, trainees typically learn about the emergency procedures set up in their workplace such as the structure of the ECO, alarm activation in the building, responding to emergencies and the location of assembly areas.

Evacuation training: Workplace evacuation exercises are designed to test the ability of staff and occupants to efficiently evacuate in the event of an emergency. This type of training is often conducted using the most likely emergency scenarios to occur in your workplace and the evacuation exercise would include a risk assessment of the premises. Evacuation training can also help employees prepare to deal with the fear and panic associated with a fire and how to identify quick ways to leave the building. These evacuation procedures may be useful during emergency situations when visibility might be greatly reduced.

Fire extinguisher training: Fire extinguishers are an essential element of fire safety in the workplace. Training can help educate staff about the relevance of state fire safety regulations and develop operational techniques for using fire equipment in the workplace. If employees aren’t shown how to use the fire extinguishers located in their workplace, they can prove to be more of a hazard than a help in an emergency situation.

Breathing apparatus training: In any toxic gas or oxygen deficient condition, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) may be used to provide respiratory protection. Breathing apparatus training will provide staff with the skills and knowledge on how to use an SCBA if required. The training would typically cover topics such as checking and operating breathing apparatus and responding to incidents requiring breathing apparatus to be worn. Staff would be encouraged to take a refresher course every two years in order to stay up to date with the latest equipment.

Spill response training: Employees who undertake work in hazardous areas should receive proper information, instruction and training before they commence that work. Those exposed to hazardous liquid chemicals should be trained on how to attend to spills in a safe manner and utilise spill response materials. Staff must also be aware of the latest legislation as well as what components make up a spill kit and spill-response procedures.

Confined space entry training: Employees working in confined spaces can often be exposed to unsafe oxygen levels and have restricted means of entry and exit. It is essential for those employees to have regular training to equip them with the knowledge and skills required to safely enter and operate in these confined spaces, avoid exposure to hazardous substances, flammable or explosive conditions and address other safety or health issues.

Rescue procedures should also be in place. Without appropriate training, rescuers may themselves become injured or overcome by gases or oxygen deficiency. Competency-based training and retraining should be consistent with the Australian Standard, AS2865 - 2009 Confined Spaces and the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission’s Core Training Elements for Confined Spaces.

Having all the safety equipment and necessary accessories for a fire hazard is important but it is also vital to have staff that knows how to use these safety devices during emergency situations. A confident team that is able to respond appropriately in the event of a fire is an invaluable investment for a business.

A recent study by Wormald has revealed that a high percentage of small businesses in regional areas are not adequately prepared for a fire. According to the study, 61% of small businesses do not have fire-

detection or evacuation procedures in place. With 45% of respondents admitting to not having a fire extinguisher on site, Wormald is encouraging businesses to review and improve their fire-safety measures. No matter what size your business, fire-protection equipment and systems should be considered an important safety measure.

When purchasing portable fire equipment, Wormald suggests using the following steps to ensure you are properly protected: assess potential fire hazards around your office and identify the fire protection products you require; take some time to research the products available and make sure you select the right ones that carry the correct approval; ensure you position your equipment in accordance with applicable regulations, eg, Building Code of Australia or local fire services requirements; train all employees on how to use portable fire equipment; to ensure optimal performance, have your equipment regularly inspected and maintained in accordance with applicable standards and regulations; you should also seek advice from a fire protection specialist.

Wormald, part of Tyco International, is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) with certified trainers who can guide your staff through practical theory and hands-on, learning experiences. It offers a range of fire-safety training and emergency training.

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