Don’t rely solely on fire services following changes to workplace health & safety
Research from the University of Canterbury indicates that using a fire extinguisher in the event of a minor fire can potentially reduce the need for a visit from the fire service, and the business from expensive recovery costs. Yet many New Zealand businesses are putting their staff and property at risk by choosing to remove fire extinguishers and hand operating firefighting equipment (HOFFE) from their premises.
While the decision to remove fire extinguishers from a business’s premises may not be unlawful, it can put lives and operations at unnecessary risk. The reason some businesses choose to remove the equipment stems from an interpretation of the law and a motivation to cut costs.
“Recent changes to the workplace health and safety legislation have just passed through parliament,” says Dave Hipkins, National Technical Services Manager at Wormald. “These changes now place a due diligence duty on any person conducting a business or undertaking, including company directors or partners, who are now personally responsible for the health and safety of staff and contractors. When it comes to protecting people and property from fire, businesses can no longer afford to cut corners.”
It is also false for anyone to assume that sprinkler systems are designed to extinguish a fire – they are designed to limit the spread of fire. This means that if a fire occurs in a shielded area, such as under a desk shelf, the sprinkler system may not drench the area without the assistance of a fire extinguisher, hose reel or other appropriate firefighting equipment.
With the legislation changes now in place, businesses are expected to be more proactive and engaged in identifying workplace hazards and managing risk, making a comprehensive fire protection strategy vital. Having adequate and correct hand operated firefighting equipment installed provides an important first line of defence for staff which can help to reduce the impact of fire, help minimise business recovery costs, and ultimately save lives.
To better understand the effectiveness of HOFFE, the New Zealand Fire Service Commission has undertaken a research project, as part of the annual contestable research round. Part of the project is a survey whose aim is to better understand the use and benefits of HOFFE. The Fire Service is working with the fire protection industry to encourage businesses that have recently experienced a fire, to participate in the survey. Answering some questions about how a fire incident was managed will help to build a picture of the benefits of HOFFE. For details about the HOFFE project or to participate in the study, visit the survey webpage.
Combustible gases (for example, LPG, CNG and propane). Isolation of the fire is the only safe way to extinguish a Class C fire.
Combustible metals (for example, magnesium, aluminium and sodium). These fires are more common that many realise and require specialist advice.
Electrically energised equipment. Electrical fires require their own class and the equipment must comply with the AS/NZS 1850 test for electrical non-conductivity. Water must not be used on electrical fires.
Cooking fats and oils (such as those used for shallow and deep fat fryers). Fire blankets are most effective and recommended in conjunction with extinguishers for Class F fires.
Every fire extinguisher is classified by the class of fire it can be used on and the extinguisher will clearly display its class on the outside of the extinguisher. All details pertaining to the classification of fire extinguishers are set out in AS/NZS1850.
ABE powder fire extinguishers are the most widely used type and are suitable for house, boat, garage, car or caravan environments. They can be used for Class A, B, C and E type fires. BE powder fire extinguishers are most suitable for Class B and E fires. Fire extinguishers should be installed as detailed in NZ Standard NZS 4503 and typically involves a unit being located close to the main exit from the building. If the fire can’t be controlled, it is important to have easy access to the exit to get out safely. To operate a fire extinguisher, the simple acronym PASS makes it easy to remember: • Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away
from you and release the locking mechanism. • Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire . • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly. • Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
When using a fire extinguisher, keep your back to a clear exit for an easier and quicker escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.
Testing and maintenance should also be carried out in accordance with AS/NZS1841. Ensure that the extinguisher is kept in its designated place at all times and is ready to use in the event of a fire. Refer to NZS4503:2005 to review the code of practice for the distribution, installation and maintenance of hand operated firefighting equipment for use in buildings.
It is also recommended that designated personnel are trained in how to use fire extinguishers. This may be required under the businesses Health and Safety in Employment Act. In addition to having the correct firefighting equipment on site, every business should have a fire escape plan that is practiced regularly with staff. This will ensure that everyone understands what to do in the event of a fire emergency.