The dangers of desktop fire safety training
In a bid to remove the interruption that can be associated with physical evacuation drills, a number of organisations are resorting to desktop fire safety training that does not properly replicate a fire situation.
This is particularly prevalent in environments where there is perceived to be limited downtime, such as hospitals or hotels, or in industries that want to minimise disruption, such as schools or aged care facilities.
Taking shortcuts on physical fire safety training is unacceptable. Any number of things can go wrong in a fire and steps should be taken to eliminate the unknowns. Physical practice runs provide an invaluable opportunity to identify and mitigate any unexpected barriers to evacuation.
For example, an evacuation drill may reveal that employees are blocking exits by storing materials within the building or along external evacuation routes, or that doors are too narrow for wheelchairs or beds to pass, posing an evacuation challenge for mobility impaired occupants. Trip hazards caused by overgrown gardens are also generally noticed when building occupants travel the evacuation route during a drill.
One of the objectives of a comprehensive fire safety training program is to familiarise wardens with the number and type of on-the-spot decisions they have to make in the event of an emergency. Physical drills improve a warden’s confidence in successfully navigating evacuation procedures, helping to reduce the number of new situations they may face during a fire incident. This can help to prevent chaos, contributing to a safer and more efficient evacuation.
While it is possible to deliver a portion of evacuation training to fire wardens at their desk, Wormald considers physical training vital for creating safer workplaces by simulating a realistic and comprehensive evacuation scenario.
There are a number of steps that facility managers can take to help improve the success of an emergency evacuation.
A clear evacuation plan should be prominently displayed in key areas. Conduct a walk through when planning or updating routes to physically assess exit pathways.
Consulting staff and occupants during the planning process can help to ensure any additional needs for those with physical, hearing or vision impairments are accounted for. This is particularly important for facility managers in healthcare environments.
Seek to ensure every employee is aware of evacuation procedures, the latest regulations, and how to use fire protection equipment, so they can confidently manage an emergency situation. In the event of a fire, all staff should be able to respond quickly, confidently and correctly, especially in environments where occupants may rely on staff for their safe evacuation, such as hospitals, aged care and childcare facilities, or schools.
Physical training is a vital component of evacuation preparedness programs, as it helps improve the confidence and awareness of staff members, making them more efficient and responsive in an actual emergency situation.
Following an evacuation drill, debrief with staff and take feedback seriously. It’s important to affirm the parts of the evacuation that went well, and to develop learnings or new plans if parts of the evacuation were unsuccessful.
“Taking shortcuts on physical fire safety training is unacceptable. Any number of things can go wrong in a fire and steps should be taken to eliminate the unknowns.
Importantly, evacuation routes should be checked regularly to ensure they remain clear of obstacles.
Buildings operate in a constant state of flux; moving furniture or leaving excess stock or boxes around the office may inadvertently block exit routes, putting building occupants at higher risk in the event of a fire. It is imperative that facility managers regularly review evacuation routes and ensure these are kept clear. If necessary, place signage around the facility to remind people not to block exits and thoroughfares.
Consider working with fire safety professionals to ensure your evacuation plans are comprehensive and effective. Professionals can help to identify potential issues and offer ways to correct them.
Generally under Work, Health and Safety (WHS) legislation, officers must ensure that the business meets its WHS obligations and can be held personally liable for failing to do so.
It’s vital to take the necessary steps to protect people’s safety. That includes conducting physical fire safety training to ensure everyone is adequately prepared for an emergency.
Working with a fire safety professional can make it easier to effectively manage evacuation procedures and training. Engaging a professional can be an efficient and cost-effective option for ensuring evacuation plans are comprehensive and effective. By drawing on extensive experience, a professional can help to identify potential issues that may be easily missed, and offer ways to correct them.
Wormald provides a suite of fire safety training solutions and courses, and can tailor a program to meet your safety and compliance requirements.
The author, Tony Jones, is regional operations manager with Wormald and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Wormald’s engineering, defence, training and rescue businesses.
This article also appears in the June/July edition of Facility Management.