09 Jan Emergency Evacuations
How effective, known and uncluttered are your emergency fire exits?
Perhaps this is a common-sense question, but over the years, we have seen some interesting situations whereby if there had been a real emergency evacuation, several people would have perished.
We recently visited a company to meet with the CEOs whose office was on a mezzanine floor with the staffroom. These rooms were above the production area that contained several pressurised vessels and other processing machinery. Apart from the stairway that led into the production area, there was no emergency escape door on the mezzanine floor and the windows in the CEOs office were too small to get through. Sometimes I shake my head and ask why! It’s 2019 and people have still not learnt?
Recently, I read an English fire service H&S article that stated that from reviewing the records of fatalities that occurred in commercial buildings where there was a fire, 75 – 80% of the victims were found on the inside of a locked emergency exit. Also, the exit corridors had been full of shelving, storage boxes and other materials that restricted the victims from getting to the fire exits, and ultimately out of the building. Perhaps this is a good point for an audit checklist?
Your responsibilities with emergency evacuations
So, what are your responsibilities? Go to the NZ Fire Service regulations – information about evacuation schemes.
This sets out all the requirements and what is important to note, is that it is the responsibility of the building owner to implement the emergency evacuation systems.
As a quick checklist to start the year, we suggest you address the following:
- Does your building have an approved fire evacuation scheme in place?
- Obtain a site plan and mark in all the emergency exits, as well as the location of the fire extinguishers;
- Check that they all have emergency exit signage;
- If your business works at night, is the signage illuminated?
- De-clutter all access ways to the exits – this also includes the exit pathways on the outside of the building – and have this as a check point for your monthly site inspections;
- Check that your fire extinguishers have been checked, tagged and are in date;
- If your business works with chemicals and they have the potential to enter the atmosphere in an emergency, install a windsock or flag to inform your staff, neighbours and emergency services of the wind drift;
- Install an emergency assembly point that is visible and in a safe location;
- Review your induction procedures, update if required, and inform all personnel of the emergency procedures and where the emergency exits, and emergency assembly points are located;
- Identify the different types of emergency situations that could occur in your business;
- Develop a training plan for your employees, especially for those employees who may be involved in the specific events, e.g. a chemical spill that requires specialist procedures;
- Speak to your neighbouring businesses and inform them of your emergency procedures and learn about theirs;
- NZ Fire service practice drills. If your business employs 10 or more, you are required to hold a minimum of two fire drills per annum. It is recommended that these are recorded and debriefed to identify any areas for improvement.
Several years ago, I was involved with an audit team auditing a chemical company’s health and safety and quality management systems. At the audit entry meeting, I asked the production manager where the emergency assembly point was located. He then proceeded to show me a site plan, and then went to the office window and pointed to the area. “Wow” I thought, “what a great place for an emergency assembly point”. It was in the middle of the same cul-de-sac that the emergency services had to access the factory!
If you require assistance to develop these processes for your business, please contact us today.