Critical Elements of an Effective Fire Safety Program

Fire is one of the most dangerous hazards facing any industry.  Any Emergency Response Programme (ERP) should therefore include provisions to prepare adequately for any possible fire emergency.  Fire safety programs help to reduce the risk of a fire or explosion in a facility and to safeguard employees, contractors, visitors, surrounding properties, and the environment if one does occur.

Each facility presents its particular set of fire safety challenges requiring site-specific solutions. Because of this, each facility should make and use fire safety plans based on the site's risks. Plants and facilities should be built with fire safety in mind, which should be part of the design process.

The critical elements of a typical fire safety program are:

  • Fire emergency organization
  • Written fire prevention and protection plan
  • Evacuation routes
  • Alarm systems
  • Training and drills

Fire Emergency Organization

Each facility or site should prepare a fire response organization responsible for the safe shut-down, evacuation, fire-fighting, salvage, and facility restart in the event of a fire.  The fire response team should consist of management, administrative, and operating personnel knowledgeable in the facility’s operations, alarm systems, and fire-fighting equipment.
The size and responsibilities of the fire response organization will vary depending on the operations at the facility and the number of operating shifts.  The activities of the fire response organization should be coordinated with those of other emergency functions.

The key positions in the fire response organization should be:
  • Fire Coordinator: The person responsible for managing the evacuation, fire fighting, and coordination of mutual aid response.
  • Fire Department Notifier: The person responsible for contacting the community emergency response and providing basic information regarding the incident.
  • Fire-fighting Team: Responsible for instituting fire-fighting procedures for an incipient fire and verifying that automatic fire equipment is operational (employees participating in fire-fighting activities should be adequately trained and equipped to do so and should be limited to incipient fires only).
  • Evacuation Team: Responsible for coordinating the evacuation of all personnel from the affected areas, completing roll calls, and instructing personnel regarding the incident status.
  • Salvage Crew and Re-Start Crew: Responsible for initiating procedures for stabilizing and cleaning up the site and coordination of contracted services.

Fire Prevention and Protection Plan

The first step in a fire safety program should be developing a fire prevention and protection plan for the site.  The implementation of any fire protection program should not be completed without an assessment of the risks and an evaluation of the protective systems. 
The following essential elements should be included in a fire prevention and protection plan:
  • A list of the significant workplace fire hazards and their proper handling and storage procedures.
  • A list of the potential ignition sources (such as welding or smoking) and their control measures.
  • A list of the type of fire protection equipment or systems already available or that need to be installed to prevent or control fires.
  • Names and regular job titles of personnel responsible for maintenance of those systems or items of equipment.
  • Names and regular job titles of those personnel responsible for the control of fuel source hazards.
  • Housekeeping procedures that help to control accumulations of flammable and combustible waste material and residues.
  • Work permit requirements (e.g., for hot work).
  • Training requirements (e.g., portable fire extinguisher use).
  • Maintenance requirements for equipment and systems installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent accidental ignition of combustible materials.
  • Emergency shut-down procedures.
  • Rescue and medical first aid duties. 
  • Emergency notification system.
  • Head-counting procedures.

Means of Egress or Evacuation

A means of egress must be considered and planned to ensure timely and safe evacuation in the event of an emergency.  Each facility should assess the egress routes to be utilized by personnel when exiting in an emergency.  A means of egress includes travel between floors and through the intervening rooms, doorways, hallways, corridors, etc., that must be used to reach a place of safety from the emergency.  A proper means of egress permits unobstructed travel at all times.  
Each facility should ensure that:
  • where required, emergency lighting is provided, operational, and routinely tested. 
  • Emergency exits should be marked appropriately. 
  • Floor plans or workplace maps that clearly show the emergency escape routes and exits should be prepared and made available to all personnel at the site.  
  • A safe assembly area should be established to protect employees and visitors from hazardous situations during an emergency.  
  • A roll call should be completed to ensure that all employees and visitors safely evacuate the emergency area.  
  • All personnel should remain at the safe assembly area until the Emergency Coordinator has determined it is safe to leave or return to work.
Safe evacuation from a fire emergency requires that all emergency routes and exits:
  • Must be kept clear of obstructions at all times.
  • Must be accessible to any handicapped personnel that may be present in the area.
  • Doors in the evacuation route must be kept unlocked or easily opened from the inside.

Alarm systems

It may be necessary to evacuate personnel from offices and other working areas during a major fire or explosion emergency.  Alarm systems are an important tool in helping to protect workers in the event of an emergency.  The site alarm system must provide a warning for necessary emergency action.  
The alarm systems can be used to notify personnel to:
  • Stop work activities, if necessary.
  • Begin emergency procedures.
  • Evacuate the workplace.
Alarm systems may require different levels of complexity, depending on the workplace involved.  A simple alarm system may be sufficient for a small workplace, whereas a larger workplace may require more sophisticated equipment.  Emergency alarm systems may include manual pull-box alarms, Public Address (PA) systems, radio and telephones, and direct verbal communications.
A method of communication is needed to alert personnel to the emergency action they are required to take (i.e., evacuation or other action).  The preferred methods to be used and the proper procedures to be followed for reporting fires, and other emergencies and sounding emergency alarms in the workplace should be established.  

For remote work locations, a two-way radio (walkie-talkie) may be used to transmit alarms, provided that such radio messages will be monitored by emergency services, such as fire, police, or others, to ensure that the alarm signals transmitted are received.  A personal radio transmitter, worn by an individual, can be used where that individual may be working in a remote location.  Such personal radio transmitters should have a distinct signal and clearly indicate who is experiencing the emergency and the location and nature of the emergency.  All radio transmitters should have a feedback system to ensure the emergency alarm is sent to those who provide assistance.

When an alarm system is going to be used as the primary method for alerting employees, it should be interpreted as instructing them to take necessary emergency action or escape from the workplace or immediate work area.  It must therefore be possible for all employees in the affected portions of the work area to perceive the alarm above ambient noise or light levels by.  The alarm signal can take the form of a steam whistle, air horns, strobe lights or similar lighting devices, or tactile devices (Note: certain flashing light frequencies have been claimed to initiate epileptic seizures in susceptible employees). If any employee in the workplace cannot perceive an audible or visual alarm, another method of employee alerting should be used.

The alarm system should be capable of emitting distinctive and recognizable signals for each required action that it signals.  An alarm calling for workplace evacuation should be different from one summoning emergency response personnel.  Each employee in the workplace should be informed of the preferred means for reporting emergencies.

When an everyday communication system serves as the employee alerting system, all emergency messages shall have priority over all non-emergency messages in that system.  Emergency telephone numbers should be posted near telephones, employee notice boards, and other conspicuous places.  Manually operated actuation devices with employee alarms must be unobstructed, prominent, and readily accessible.

Employee alarm systems should be adequately maintained in good operating conditions.  All servicing, testing, and maintenance should be performed by trained personnel.  A backup means of sounding alarms should be provided when the alarm system is out of service.

Training & Drills

All emergency response personnel at the facility should be apprised of the fire hazards of the materials and processes to which they are exposed.  Upon initial assignment, all employees should be trained on those parts of the fire prevention plan that they must know to protect themselves in an emergency.

All site personnel should receive basic instructions on the procedures to be followed in the event of a fire in their work area, as detailed in the fire prevention and protection plan.  Fire drills should be held at a regular frequency to ensure that all personnel knows their roles and responsibilities during a fire emergency.
Only emergency responders trained in fire-fighting equipment should be permitted to participate in any fire-fighting activity.  Response personnel is not required to participate in any fire-fighting activity that places them in an unsafe condition.

Jawad Chand

Jawad Chand is an occupational health & safety practitioner and trainer with extensive experience in oil & gas safety management, process safety, pharmaceuticals hazard control, and health & safety management systems. He is a highly qualified professional with the most prestigious degrees in Business Administration, Chemical Engineering, and Occupational Health & Safety.

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