There has been a spate of incidents of fire accidents occurring in the past one or two months. Causing damage and huge loss of human lives. Not to mention the loss of property and assets. The fire that broke out in Surat has caused the death of at least 22 individuals. Including several teenagers who were starting their life's journey.
These incidents should be enough to make one wake up to the need of the hour.
- June 10th, 2019: Fire breaks out at Shastri Bhavan
- June 9th, 2019: 3 Coaches of Silchar-Trivandrum Express catches Fire
- June 8th, 2019: Women and her 2 kids died in a fire at Faridabad
- May 28th, 2019: Fire erupts at Bulb Manufacturing unit in Delhi
- May 25th, 2019: Surat Building Fire
- May 20th, 2019: Massive Fire at a Chemical Factory near Silvassa
- May 13th, 2019: Fire at Apple Children Multi Speciality Hospital in Ahmedabad
- May 11th, 2019: New Delhi-Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express catches Fire
- May 9th, 2019: Fire kills 5 in a blaze at Pune cloth godown
The investigation conducted afterwards highlights issues of non-compliance. With ignorance and a lack of responsibility, the Fire Safety measures are completely neglected. Simple precautionary steps such as the upkeep of extinguishers, fire doors, fire exits, their markings and assembly areas are not undertaken.
Non-Existant or Blocked Exits, Improper Storage of inflammable materials, exposed and overhanging electrical wiring are some of the main causes. The personnel handling the chemicals and other pieces of equipment have not been thoroughly educated on the norms to handle such inflammable stuff. Or, in some cases, tags on storage, proper books and records were not maintained. So the workers did not know what all they were handling.
However, in all these cases, no one can deny that the basic safety procedures were overlooked.
Fire Statistics in India
As per the National Crime Records Bureau, about over 60 people die every day in India due to fire. Every year, about 25,000 persons die due to fires and related causes, in India. Women account for about 66% of those killed in fire accidents. Fire accounts for about 6% of the total deaths reported due to natural and unnatural causes.
While the Economic losses suffered due to these fires have not been calculated. However, some estimates and independent studies have come up. According to one, out of the major losses reported by the Indian Insurance Companies, about 45% of the claims are due to fire losses. According to another study, about Rs. 1000 crores are lost every year due to fire.
A fire has accounted for 9% of the overall ranking of risks. Fires have been rated as the 5th highest risk in the manufacturing industry.
Many of these deaths could have been prevented, had we been aware of and taken enough fire protection measures.
Reasons for the Surge in Fire Accidents
As per the survey, Fire rank at the 5th position. And there has been a sudden slew of incidents adding to the trend. So what has caused this upward trend of fire risks in India?
Research by FICCI, in 2018, with Pinkerton India, gives the following reasons:
- In 2018, there were numerous fire incidents. Along with significant losses of life and property.
- Inspections conducted across major cities in India revealed that many buildings deviating the fire safety norms. Be it factories, institutions, residential and high-rise.
- There is an acute shortage of resources in India. Manpower and equipment for firefighting are simply non-existent.
- Government organizations are in place to regulate fire safety norms. But the implementation and coordination between different government bodies continue to be a big challenge.
- Electrical short circuits are rated as the common cause of the fire, in offices and buildings.
- Businesses, in whose premises a fire has occurred, sees a 25-30% dip in footfalls and business.
Common Causes of Fire at Workplace
Businesses and institutions can and should take up many measures to protect against fire. Of course, the best defence is to prevent a fire from starting in the first place.
If a fire occurs, it can damage and destroy property, costing lakhs of Rupees. Far worse is when workplace fires cause injury or death to employees.
To prevent, you just need to take good precautions. Keep updated on how these types of accidents or even disasters can be easily prevented. The most common causes of fire at the workplace are avoidable. Moreover, s bit of training and precautions can take care of most incidents.
Without a doubt, this is the most common cause of Fire at workplaces. Whether due to some electrical equipment malfunctioning. Or faulty wiring. Electricity is the most common source of ignition for major fires. The cause may be defective wiring, overloaded sockets or plugs. Using old or malfunctioning equipment causes overloading and leads to sparks that start a fire on combustible materials.
To avoid such problems with electrical fires, you must establish an electrical safety program. A familiarization programme must be carried out with the employees. This way the employees will learn how to be safe and operate safely. It must be made a mandatory practice to use tools, equipment and other goods properly. Extension cords must be inspected before use. If found faulty, removed from service and properly tagged. Damage or inadequate maintenance causes machinery to deteriorate, resulting in unsafe conditions.
Do note, the Directors of the company operating that workplace are legally responsible for ensuring that all equipment works and functions correctly, and this includes electrical machinery.
Flammable Combustible Material
If you are in the business that stores or uses chemicals, you would, invariably, be aware that safety and proper management is of utmost importance. The most prevalent dangers of these chemicals are that they are flammable and combustible. Improper handling of flammable materials increases the great risk of fire.
If a flammable liquid is accidentally spilt. Then vapours begin to form afterwards. Next, the vapours ignite. And that poses the greater danger. Cleaning up of the flammable liquid spill must begin immediately. Vapours will continue to build until the spill is cleaned. This can further ignite more sources in an average workplace.
If your business utilises combustible material then correct storage, disposal and handling processes must be highly regulated, Safety must be considered paramount by all workers.
There are thousands of chemicals being used in various industries nowadays. Proper education and training on handling combustible and flammable materials must be carried out regularly.
A way to avoid fire caused by these materials is by following all the accompanying guidelines when dealing with flammables.
Another major reason for fires inside the work premises is human error. This is typically the case because most of the accidents are not intentional.
Anything can happen. It could be burning food in a staff area. Spillages of flammable liquids. Improper use of machinery. And last, but not the least, simple carelessness.
One method of preventing these types of incidents is to provide proper training to all the employees. They must be well aware of not only about the inflammability. They must also have knowledge and practice on using Fire Extinguishers. They must know the Fire Exits. The regular do's and don'ts in such situations. A Fire Drill must be carried out regularly to keep reminding them on all the steps they should take.
One way to prevent these types of incidents would be by ensuring there’s plenty of suitable fire extinguishers located around the work area. Posting fire safety signs in common areas is also a good way to avoid forgetfulness.
To point out another failure due to human error is the sprinkler system failure. There have been incidents reportedly when the water supply was turned off. So they couldn't be used at the time of the fire.
Just remember, for fire prevention strategies to be successful, there has to be proactiveness at the managerial level, at least. It all depends primarily on pre-planning, preparation, equipment quality, and the readiness of the personnel. Employees must know about using the extinguishers, correctly. If the extinguisher is used wrongly, the fire may become more serious.
Sadly, in India, the most common cause of the fire is negligence. Don't consider these same as the fires caused by human error. Negligence is when someone does not follow the compliances as required by the law. Or neglects intentionally. A person intentionally undertaking an activity that is a potential fire hazard.
We Indians are quite fond of taking short-cuts. Just to save a few rupees or minutes, we are ready to take many risks. Involving our own life and others. Similarly, in work, certain individuals choose to ignore correct procedures to get the job done faster. This could be directly or indirectly cause a major fire and health and safety risk.
This is how most of the above-listed fires started resulting in loss of life. It may be blocking of ventilation areas, misusing or improperly storing flammable or combustible materials, stacking paper or card in a flammable area, or overusing equipment or using equipment improperly.
To avoid these issues, it’s imperative that your show commitment. Then your employees will definitely follow. You must conduct reviews, retraining and assessments at regular intervals. You must ensure implement clear policies. And reward close adherence. This would make your personnel understand your commitment and they will show proper workmanship and reduce any risk of fires in the future.
How to ensure Fire Safety in Business Premises
Prevention is always better than cure. Thereby, it is best to avoid Fire in the first place. Although, fire emergencies and disasters can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere. We can, at least, work towards minimizing the risks of fire occurrences. Also, prevent damage.
Fire prevention should be considered part of everyone’s job. From the Topmost level to the lower step. All stakeholders must help to keep the work area clutter-free and safe from fire hazards. Extreme care must be taken at the time of working with inflammable chemicals. Whether solvents, gasoline, gases, and fuels.
And the best prevention for fire is knowledge and training.
Below, we provide a few tips you can undertake to reduce hazards in your workplace.
- Undertake Fire Safety Audit - Fire Safety at the business premises would benefit everyone in the supply chain. That is factories, suppliers, brands, importers and retailers. They would be able to secure a risk-free workplace. In India, the audit is carried out by IS 14489: 1998. However, these fire safety audit regulations are considered somewhat outdated. Whether you conduct your business internationally or not. It helps to comply with the guidelines laid down under laws by European Countries or the USA. Or by OSHA, the ISO Certification for Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- Get Organized - The first and foremost step you should take is to clear out all the clutter. Good housekeeping prevents things from piling up. Clutter contributes to fires by providing fuel. Moreover, it gets difficult for people to access exits and emergency equipment, in times of an emergency.
- Fire Extinguishers - Maintenance and proper books for Fire Extinguishers must be kept. If outdated, these must be replaced immediately. Furthermore, everyone on the premises must be taught how to properly use a fire extinguisher.
- Electrical Hazards - Many fires have started due to faulty wiring or malfunction in some electrical equipment. Many computers, screens, internet cables, and adaptors are a normal scene in offices of today. These need extension leads and multiple plug sockets. But, overloading power sockets and/or using faulty and cheap extension leads can result in overheating. And may potentially cause a fire. Such common causes can be easily avoided.
- Avoid Smoking on the Premises - Smoking should be avoided per se. If, however, you have to allow it. Then try to designate a particular area on your premises. This area should be away from any flammable materials, storerooms and the main buildings. Make sure to extinguish smoking materials safely. And provide special bins for cigarette disposal.
- Maintenance - Maintenance of machinery, equipment, as well as Fire Alarm systems, Sprinkler Systems, and other Firefighting Pieces of equipment is necessary. Proper usage, storage and maintenance of chemicals is also required.
- Free Access - To exit points. To Sprinklers and other pieces of equipment of Firefighting. To Electrical Control Panels, so that the electricity can be shut down without hindrances. Keep all passages clear and don't stack them.
- Testing - Testing of sprinkler systems and smoke detectors should be carried out, at least every 3-months. Having the systems does not mean they'll work. Buying and installing a fire alarm that doesn’t work is just as ineffective as not having one at all. Keep a schedule for maintenance and tests.
- Chemical Safety - Ensure that the chemicals are used and stored safely. Go through the label and the Material Safety Data Sheet to determine their flammability and other fire hazards. Adequate ventilation at the time of their usage and storage is also a must.
- Waste Control & Storage - Prevent unnecessary accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials and residues. As they may also contribute to a fire emergency.
- Exits - Emergency exit diagrams should be posted, as required by law and other complying standards. The boards directing towards emergency exits should be well lit with neon-regulation signs.
Benefits of Being Fire Safe at your Premises
When you invest in Fire Safety set-up for your business, you invest in people. It improves health, safety and well-being of the people connected with you and your business. A safe, healthy work environment is one of the most basic social rights. Providing protection of workers from Occupational Safety and Health risk improves goodwill. Besides being the humane thing.
Workers have the right to a working environment adapted to their professional needs and which enables them to prolong their participation in the labour market.’
Under the various Fire Safety Audits, management system, facilities and activities of your organization are assessed. The prevailing hazards, the level of prevention, protection and emergency management preparedness are also considered. And subsequently, you get a recommendation to upgrade safety inputs to avert mishaps and limit consequences.
The Final Reports recommends more efficient working methods and technologies. Which contributes to a better work-life balance.
- Employees will understand the importance of safety. It will raise awareness of fire prevention and protection measures.
- You would be able to reinforce personal safety through good practice and working.
- Compliance of rules and regulations.
- All procedures and controls are in place.
- Accidents won't happen at all. Or at least there will be a reduction in the number of incidences.
- Good Fire Safety management saves lives. And it is crucial to protect workplaces. They must be made as safe as possible from fires.
- All Fires impact the lives of people and communities in which you operate. Additionally, a Fire would affect people, your employees and you.
- Fire safety management is a continual process that must be maintained to ensure people and property are protected.
- It will improve staff morale. Thereby improving productivity. And, therefore, the Profits will be better.
- You get easier Insurance. If all the necessary systems are in place. And a frequent check is undertaken. It will be easier to get Fire Insurance from several companies. Moreover, in the remote case, that Fire still occurs, it would be easier to claim and recover the losses.
- There are Tax benefits on placing proper Fire Safety management systems, from the government. The various Audits and Certifications of Being Fire Safe provide Tax exemptions, which are too immense to ignore.
Are you ready to take the property loss and damage? Can your business afford to lose on the lost workdays? Do you have the time, money and effort to get entangled in the unnecessary and avoidable legal procedures? The reputation of your brand would get adversely affected, for sure. Several studies, one of them conducted by the UN, abroad show that there is at least a benefit of 2:1 Return on what the businesses have invested. These studies show strong evidence that fire safety investment should be better appreciated.
Investing in Fire Safety is, therefore, essential from a moral, legal and financial perspective.
This article has been written by Reema, a content writer with LegalRaasta. LegalRaasta is an online platform, which seeks to improve and enhance the Continuity and Resilience of your Business. We help in providing several Legal and Financial Services, related to Businesses, all over India. We undertake various Certifications, such as ISO, FSSAI, and Trademark Registration, etc.