Before the Fire Alarms and Sprinkler System Go in, Take the Fire Risk Factors Out
A fire at your commercial facility could be a catastrophe that literally ruins your life and the lives of others. Financial losses could be enormous, and the loss of merchandise and equipment could mean the end of your business or the businesses of your building’s tenants. Physical injuries or loss of life could be the worst result of all possibilities. Your fire alarms and sprinkler system will help keep these things from happening, but they only work once a fire has started. Evaluating your building for fire risk factors and eliminating them from the design will help keep fires from occurring.
Depending on your industry and government regulations, you may be required to perform a fire risk assessment. Dangerous and high-risk industries may need them as a component of meeting safety requirements necessary to operate. In many cases, however, if a fire risk assessment is not compelled by law or regulation, they are not done. Working a thorough risk assessment into your design and engineering phases makes sense not only for the future of your building and the businesses it contains, but for your peace of mind as a building owner or tenant. Fire risk factors share some commonalities, but it’s not possible to find a universal solution to reducing risk. Every building must be professionally inspected and assessed.
There are two major styles of fire risk assessments: qualitative and quantitative.
Qualitative assessments use known factors ranging from simple observation to known experiences to determine a structure’s fire risk. Quantitative assessments assign numerical status to risks, using statistical data, fire probability reports, mathematical processes, and physical data to derive an assessment of risk. You may be able to perform a basic qualitative assessment on your own, but professional-level qualitative and quantitative evaluations should be conducted by experts.
The basic procedure for a qualitative fire risk assessment involves five steps:
- Locate and identify potential fire risk and hazards: These factors can include location and sources of flammable fuel or objects, business or industrial processes that use fire or could cause a fire, sources of fire ignition, sources of oxygen or other material that could speed the progress of a fire, and any other activities or material that could cause or exacerbate a fire.
- Identify who is at risk from fire: This assessment covers many variables of who may be most in danger if a fire starts. Personnel involved in manufacturing processes using fire will be most at risk, while building tenants occupying a retail store may be less at risk.
- Evaluate fire risk and take steps to eliminate or reduce the risk: Here, you or your consultant can make reasoned assessments on the likelihood of a fire and the risks that individuals will face in case of a fire. Identified hazards or risks can be minimized or removed completely. Prevention and emergency procedures can be established, including firefighting procedures, escape routes and signage. The fire alarms and sprinkler system can be designed. Maintenance procedures can be established and put into place.
- Record findings, inform building occupants, and provide fire-related training: All significant findings from the assessment should be recorded and maintained, as should any actions taken. Building managers, tenants and employees can be informed of the building’s risks and the emergency procedures to take in case of fire. Training can be given in relevant areas, such as evacuation, firefighting or first aid.
- Review fire risk assessment periodically: All documentation from the assessment should be maintained in safe areas onsite and off. Building managers and owners should periodically review the assessment and make adjustments and revisions where necessary, such as in the fire alarms and sprinkler system.
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