Prioritizing fire risk in the post-pandemic era

Estimated read time 4 min read

Prioritizing fire risk in the post-pandemic era

Fire risk is one of the oldest and most serious risks for almost all businesses, with the potential to inflict catastrophic loss of life and property. However, many organizations continue to make lapses in fire safety, which pose significant danger to their operations.

To put perspective on the frequency of fire, firefighters respond to a fire every 23 seconds and a fire occurs in a structure at the rate of once every 65 seconds, according to the US National Fire Protection Association.

During US Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 9 to Oct. 15), Corporate Risk and Insurance spoke with Robert Tull (pictured above), assistant vice president of risk solutions at QBE North America, on how organizations can develop a better culture of fire safety in the post-pandemic environment.

“From 2017-2019, working, automatic extinguishing systems were present in only 22% of fires in non-residential buildings such as restaurants, office spaces and retail stores, according to the US Fire Administration, and only half had working smoke alarm detectors,” Tull said. “So, at that time, many businesses were not prepared for a fire, and that is when they were operating at full capacity.”

When COVID hit and many businesses shut down their premises, maintaining fire systems became even less of a priority, due to most employees working from home. According to Tull, with the growing number of employees going back to working in physical places of business in 2022, it’s critical that business owners make fire safety and education a priority.

Developing a better culture of fire safety

“A fire can be one of the most devastating events to happen to a business,” Tull said. “With more and more people back to their physical workplaces, it’s a great time to develop an overall safety culture in an office, with fire safety being a top priority. Every business needs to have a fire safety plan in place and this needs to be communicated to employees.

“First and foremost, companies need to make sure their fire protection systems are properly maintained, and most importantly, have a plan for impairments,” he said. “When a fire protection or detection system is shut down or impaired, whether planned or unplanned, the ability to withstand and contain a fire is severely diminished. This is when a business facility is most vulnerable to damage and disruption.”

Tull provided a list of actions that businesses should take before, during and after impairment of their fire detection and protection systems. These are:

Before impairment

  • Plan for an impairment to your system by performing a detailed risk assessment to spot vulnerabilities and ensuring any nearby hazards can be protected, contained or eliminated.
  • Confirm that you have the right materials – and staff – available before the impairment begins to shorten the length of the shutdown
  • Notify key operations personnel, emergency response teams, local fire and rescue services and your remote alarm monitoring station as to when you’re planning a shutdown period
  • Hang “Out of Service” tags on equipment that is, or will be, affected during this time

During impairment

  • Keep a watchful eye for fire hazards in or around the area where the fire control equipment is impaired
  • Be sure employees and contractors understand that the fire control is impaired and prevent them from performing unnecessary hazardous activities. Halt hazardous production processes and prohibit “hot work” in the area
  • Work on the job continuously until completed, if possible. If it must be left overnight, ensure security patrols the area and other precautions are maintained

After impairment

  • When the impaired fire control equipment is restored, inspect the area and witness a performance test or sprinkler alarm test to verify that it has been properly returned to service
  • Re-lock valves, reset control panels, and inform your remote monitoring station
  • Remove the “Out of Service” tags from functioning equipment

According to Tull, OBE offers a variety of loss control services to help mitigate fire risk, in addition to fire damage coverage in its property policies.

“As part of its fire prevention toolkit, QBE offers a guide to fire protection impairment with helpful information and recommended steps and a fire safety inspection checklist, as performing routine fire safety inspections is an integral part of an effective fire prevention and control plan,” he said. “QBE Risk Solutions also offers a variety of additional tools and tips to help businesses prevent fires in the workplace.”

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