Applying the internationally accepted principals of emergency management to your building with respect to Fire & Life Safety have long provided significant benefits to both public safety, and continuity of operations. The benefits allow your organization to eliminate and / or mitigate a vast array of common business operational challenges that buildings face on a day to day basis. The following provides a brief overview of a strong program and benefits in your pro-active Fire & Life Safety Program;
Prevention – Establishment and enforcement of policies and procedures for both tenants, employees and most importantly visiting contractors conducting work on your property. This includes strict rules for work involving flame and / or heat producing work such as roofing, grinding, cutting, soldering, etc, as well as any work that may produce fumes and / or odour. There must be a HOTWORK program in your building. Most insurance companies demand this.
This also includes pre and post inspections of work being conducted within your building, ensuring that fire & smoke separations within pre-identified high hazard and critical areas within the building, including repairing existing penetrations in rated fire separations such as main electrical, mechanical & fire alarm rooms as required by code. A common fire safety concern often overlooked by building managers is the failure to insect completed work / renovations that contractor have cut or made holes in fire rated walls within electrical and maintenance rooms.
Detection – Your buildings fire safety plan, as long as it is updated as required on an annual basis, provides a detailed account of preventative maintenance requirements with respect to the Fire Code. This is an invaluable tool for building owners and managers that is significantly underutilized.
Response – Another code requirement is to ensure that your building supervisory staff are trained in emergency preparedness procedures for Fire & related “Life Safety” incidents within your building.
One of the most common mistakes that building managers make is that they tend to look at only “Fire” within their “Life Safety” Program. For example, building Supervisory staff (your security guard / building Superintendent / Building Operator, etc.) must be prepared to respond and recover from equipment and system failures…if the operator is not prepared there will be delays in response and returning to business operations that may negatively impact reputation of both the building an management personnel. Example….
Failures of elevators systems and entrapments,
CO Gas Detection systems within Parking Garages,
Power Failures and Emergency Generator “manual” start-up procedures,
Prepared to order an evacuation of the building if required (On behalf of the Owner)
Manual shut down of Fire Pumps and sprinkler systems
Manual shut down of HVAC systems & Building Air Intakes
Minor chemical spills and / or leaks, including the appropriate equipment to ensure employee and public safety and limit building operational disruption.
Prepared to shut off Domestic and sprinkler water shut offs to limit the
Why is forgoing these measures a problem?
Decreased occupant safety, increased legal liability, tenant and client distrust in building systems and or management responsibilities that also negatively impacts reputation. This brings a newly recognized focus of a well-appointed fire-safety plan is the opportunity to attract prospective clients, Corporations looking to lease space are being proactive in their due diligence and are considering the status of building life-safety systems, safety procedures and emergency management programs in their decisions to lease space for their employees – not to mention make a home in your Condo.
Benefits to building occupants / tenants
Fire-safety plans provide detailed instructions for tenants and building occupants on fire and emergency procedures including actions to take if there is a fire, an evacuation order or if tenants are told to shelter in place.
A properly completed fire-safety plan also provides tactical information to help the fire department in rescue operations, property conservation efforts and when dealing with hazardous materials. If this is information is known and understood by all building staff it can limit costly operational disruptions and allow a return to business more quickly: this saves time and money.
Some building fire safety plans include detailed building information and floor plans that can be used by specialty response teams in the event of violent incidents, barricaded persons, reports of suspicious packages and when dealing with criminal acts in residential buildings or workplaces. This type of proactive planning significantly enhances the safety of building occupants. This is considered the best practice as after all…you have a fire safety plan that can be used by all three emergency services – at the front door of your building for when they arrive.
An outdated or incorrect fire-safety plan, or one that is not easily accessible, may hinder emergency operations. This could negatively impact public safety and expose your organization to significant risk and liabilities.
Persons requiring assistance (PRAs) in building emergencies
People who have speech, hearing or visual impairments, a cognitive limitation or mobility issues require assistance in building emergencies. A building fire-safety plan should contain a list of those in the building who need help and the procedures necessary to get them out of the building in an emergency. In an evacuation or other emergency, this plan should be made available to the responding emergency services.
This section in the fire-safety plan supports your organization’s compliance with occupational health and safety requirements for your organizations own employees, as well as local accessibility requirements for your municipality. This information must be updated as per code at minimum annually. The current best practice is every three months.
Fire and Evacuation Training
In support of building Fire Safety Plans, building operations staff, security and building occupants must receive training on the procedures contained within, and achieve an operational level for the procedures, and an awareness level of the preventative measures within the plan.
Typically, this training – if conducted at all – is most often conducted by the buildings property management team. This raises another liability question – specifically as to the qualifications – or the experience of who’s facilitating these training sessions. It is recommended that when you conduct training, your organization is using qualified instructors.
In a 2010 survey of over 100 front line Toronto Fire Fighters, the number one complaint was the lack of knowledge of building supervisory staff. Firefighters arriving on scene at your building require a “trained and knowledgeable” representative from the property to assist arriving fire crews in providing critical information such as fire alarm status, fire panel operations, as well as occupant evacuation details, and building access information. This is requirement under the Ontario Fire Code.
Building Fire Extinguishers
Building fire extinguishers are required by code to be inspected on a monthly
basis. This inspection falls under the responsibility of the landlord, and is typically assigned to patrolling security guards or building operations personnel.
The inspection process is simple, yet crucial to ensure proper function when the
time is needed to use the extinguisher. Recently, NLS Group has identified a rather alarming trend within recently inspected GTA buildings, that the persons inspecting these extinguishers (and signing off on the inspections as a legal record) have never been trained on how to properly inspect these life safety devices. This not only represents a gap in required training, and the inspection process, it’s simply frightening from a corporate liability aspect.
Roof top Solar Panels bring fresh safety & legal concerns for building owners
Fire Safety Plans must be updated at a minimum on an annual basis, also when a new hazard has been introduced…such as the installation of solar panels. Although the electricity to solar panels may be isolated, panels continue to harness and store electricity causing a significant challenge to firefighting operations.
The growing trend of building owners installing solar panels on roof tops is creating a new concern for responding fire services. Concerns noted in the installation of these panels bring a significant focus to the emergency isolation of energy / power to these panels. Building staff must be aware of how to isolate the power to these panels and how the building fire alarm system interacts with these installations – If at all.
Fire Safety Plans are designed to be used by Building Supervisory staff AND Firefighters. One important component of a properly completed Fire Safety Plan is the documentation and communication of building hazards to arriving emergency services. If the building’s fire safety plan does not accurately identify firefighter and building hazards, liability concerns arise post incidents.
Failure of an organizations legal responsibility to document and “warn” responding firefighters of any unique building hazards via your updated fire safety plan poses a liability to your organization.
National Life Safety Group is an industry leading Consultancy Firm, specializing in Public & Workplace Safety; with a focus on best practices in facility Fire, Life Safety and Emergency Management. Toronto www.nationallifesafetygroup.ca