Whether a business is big or small, fire is one of the most devastating risks a business owner can face. Not only is there a potential for loss of life, but financial loss as well. A fire can destroy business premises, equipment and inventory. Without proper insurance cover, damage may take years to recover from – if ever.
The recent fire at the parliament building is a perfect example of the extensive damage that can be caused and the implications thereof. The losses stemming from that fire, including the repairs and reconstruction, are estimated at approximately R1 billion.
This recent event has put a spotlight on the importance of having a fire safety plan in place. Understanding the major causes of fires and the associated risks is the first step towards mitigating a potential disaster. It is essential for business owners to consider a comprehensive fire safety management strategy that assesses and addresses every potential risk scenario.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most businesses incorporated a work-from-home model which left business premises vacant or with very limited staff. Fire safety might have fallen off the list of priorities, but as the year begins and employees return to the office, now is a good time to refocus on assessing this risk.
We may not be able to predict or even detect a fire but as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Being ready for a fire incident is more than just placing a few fire extinguishers around (although, that’s a good place to start.). Having a proper plan in place makes it possible to prevent a fire or at least minimise the potential damage.
Let’s look at ways to make a commercial space fire-ready:
1. Have a safety programme in place
Employees are not only a business’ greatest asset, but they are also safety programme champions. Make sure that employees are well-informed on fire safety and what to do in the event of a fire. This can include things like:
- Regular fire drills
- Regular testing of fire alarms, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, etc.
- Providing safety manuals and guidelines to staff
- Hands-on staff training to ensure a quick and effective response during a fire incident.
The measures can make all the difference between averting a crisis and suffering a substantial loss. Although this will require some investment, consider it a vital expense for the long-term success of your business.
2. Fire detection
Early detection means a fire can be extinguished before extensive damage occurs. That’s why it’s critical to install fire alarms, smoke detectors and heat detectors – and test them regularly.
3. Fire sprinkler systems
Considered as one of the most reliable and cost-effective fire control methods, fire sprinkler systems are generally easily installed and maintained. Given that systems are professionally fitted and all key components are fully functioning and serviced regularly, fire sprinkler systems hold a number of benefits to business owners:
- They are designed to react promptly and automatically in the event of a fire, irrespective of the time of day, without the need for human intervention or navigating safety considerations.
- They are designed to extinguish fire at inception which results in significantly less heat and smoke being generated.
However, these systems aren’t one-size-fits-all. They must be designed specifically to the building’s occupancy to ensure they’ll be capable of extinguishing a fire. They also require annual inspections by a qualified sprinkler system contractor to make sure they’re fully functional. Some insurers routinely ask for sprinkler adequacy reports and annual inspection reports.
4. Fire separations
The simplest way to prevent a fire from spreading between buildings is by separating them. Restricting fire damage to a specific area can potentially help return a business to normal as quickly as possible. For example, firewalls can be used to create separate fire areas within the same building. Firewall ratings can vary depending on the construction materials used. For instance, non-combustible firewalls made from hollow, concrete blocks are common and often have a fire rating of 3 hours.
5. Your insurance policy
Nearly every major disaster serves as a reminder to business owners of the importance of reviewing their business insurance policies. Understanding the scope of cover allows business owners to update insurance policies before a loss happens.
Every business faces unique risks, but loss prevention strategies like these will help minimise them. Always remember, the best way to protect a business and employees from unforeseen emergencies is by preparing for them in advance.
Contact your intermediary to arrange a full risk assessment of your business premises and get the right cover in place.