Fire safety in the workplace is a lot more involved than simply providing the right number of fire extinguishers.

To provide adequate fire safety to your workers, you first must conduct a careful risk assessment to determine:

  • the fire hazards in your workplace;
  • the risks associated with those hazards;
  • the appropriate firefighting and fire prevention equipment you need;
  • the signage necessary to accompany the equipment; and
  • where the equipment needs to be located in the workplace.

Many businesses also store and use hazardous chemicals onsite, hence the firefighting equipment must be capable of extinguishing fires involving those chemicals. Each hazardous chemical you store should be accompanied with a hazardous chemical safety data sheets contain firefighting information relating to that particular chemical.

You should assessthe risks of fire in your workplace before purchasing fire extinguishers to ensure you have the correct equipment. You may wish to engage a fire consultant to assist you.

Firefighting should form a part of your emergency management plan.

You must ensure your business has adequate emergency plans for all of your workplaces, including vehicles if they are used to carry out work. Officers – or, in Western Australia and Victoria, directors, executive officers and senior managers – must ensure they receive adequate reporting from designated people within the business, which should indicate that:

  • an emergency management plan is in place;
  • the emergency management plan is compliant with relevant legislation; and
  • all people in the business have been trained and are competent in the emergency management plan.

Fire wardens

Fire wardens form an integral part of your emergency management plan. Therefore, you should take care to identify the roles and responsibilities of those who will respond to a fire emergency.

Depending on the size of your business, you may have different types of fire wardens, including:

  • a chief fire warden;
  • building fire wardens;
  • floor fire wardens; and
  • area fire wardens.

While there are no legal requirements that state when fire wardens need to have refresher training, most fire emergency services recommend this training take place every 3 years for existing fire wardens.

However, you shouldn’t rely solely on your fire wardens in the event of an emergency. They may be on leave on the day of the fire. All staff must understand how to respond in a fire emergency.

That’s why it’s also important to run regular evacuation drills as part of worker training, ideally, every 6 months and at least once every 12 months. If you have a high-risk workplace or if significant changes to your workplace have occurred, you may need to conduct evacuation drills more frequently.

Fire wardens help play a key role in ensuring your business is prepared for a fire emergency by helping to develop effective emergency procedures. They can also help to prevent emergencies, e.g. by proactively checking for any fire hazards in the building. Fire wardens can also raise worker awareness of fire hazards and how they should respond in an emergency.

Use your fire wardens to conduct and practice fire drills and take particular notice of those workers and visitors who may need assistance to evacuate during an emergency, including providing additional assistance for people with special needs, e.g. someone in a wheelchair.

Telling the authorities

Businesses must notify their health and safety regulator immediately upon becoming aware that a dangerous incident, e.g. an uncontrolled fire, explosions or implosion, has taken place at their workplace. Failing to do so, or failing to keep records, can result in significant fines.

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