Fire Safety and Legislation, have you got a plan in place?

EMS with borderPorts, harbours and terminals are some of the toughest environments when considering fire safety. Full of activity with large amounts of traffic, including people unfamiliar with the site and localised issues, each location offers it’s own specific challenges dependent on business demands.

UK Fire legislation is very precise on what measures need to be taken to meet the law. There are a few exceptions, one of which is anything that flies, floats or runs on wheels. Other than that, the law is clear on what must be done to be compliant.

In conjunction with the Fire Safety Order,England and Wales and similar Acts for Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are a plethora of other considerations which need to be fed into a plan. These include issues such as the fire alarm system itself and how to help disabled people. Evacuation plans need to be devised, as well as thinking about how to deal with an emergency should it occur. Are there trained persons on site to deal with extinguishing a fire and are there sufficient and correct extinguishers available?

These factors must work together to promote the very safest of environments whilst still maintaining business continuity and efficiency. Financial demand and time constraints seem to be the order of the day, however, cutting corners or ignoring these responsibilities could be fatal and result in custodial sentences for those responsible.

Whilst daunting, adopting a modular approach of dealing with each area of risk by using experienced and competent people to manage and define a plan, it can be achieved safely.

Let’s explore some of the basics and start with a fire detection system. The very nature of a busy port or terminal means that this needs to be accurate, as false alarms are both inconvenient and costly, with the possibility of people on-site losing confidence in its ability to accurately detect a fire. Other challenges such as the footprint of the site and the layout of buildings may mean that traditional thinking might need to be reconsidered. Then there are the newly introduced guidelines about visual devices in a noisy environment or for those with hearing difficulties. There are of course standards that need to be met – BS5839 is clear on what is needed once the type or category of system is identified.

Wireless technology is becoming more prevalent as it provides a fast-track solution to installing systems quickly and without disruption. Outlying buildings can be connected by radio without digging ducts or using catenaries, avoiding protracted civil works and the associated headaches surrounding increased Health and Safety issues.

Connecting a number of systems is also achievable using radio technology, allowing site-wide information to flow quickly, enabling staff to act rapidly to avert a more serious problem. The caveat is that any such system must be from an established company providing products that meet the European standard EN54-25 that ensures radio is every bit as good as a traditionally wired systems. Again, the use of a competent and experienced person knowledgeable in this area is fundamental.

EMS FireCell is EN54-25 certified and 3rd party approved. It supports up to 4,096 wireless devices and up to eight EMS FireCell systems can be linked together seamlessly across buildings. This means that, for estates of more than one building, such as ports and passenger terminals, effective fire protection can be achieved holistically.

The risk assessment approach is vital in establishing how to proceed and what is needed and each element needs its own assessment. These can then feed into an overall plan of action.

Apart from the fire system itself there is staff training to consider, what procedures they must follow and can they interpret and operate the panel? Guidance is also required about when a fire situation can be tackled and what extinguisher is used. Often misinterpretation can lead to unnecessary evacuations which cost money and create disruption. Clear and concise plans help to alleviate problems and streamline real emergencies.

Training should also include how to help and assist anyone on-site with a disability. This could be a hearing impairment, physical or mental disability, each providing differing challenges. Fire systems also need to meet the Disability and Equality ACT 2010 and provide equipment to assist disabled site users.

There is a new code of practice on the use of visual alarm devices – a 50+ page guidance document on when, how and why to use these. The very nature of ports and terminals means noise can be a problem, so using visual devices to alert site users and visitors is imperative and it also helps to ensure obligations under the D&E ACT 2010 can be met with regard to the deaf and hard of hearing.

The use of visual devices has always been a bit ‘hit and miss’, although BS5839 does give some guidance, but the launch of this document now clearly defines how these are located, how many are required and how bright they need to be.

Once an alarm is activated and alerts all site users and visitors, what happens next? This is where PEEPS comes into play. PEEPS or “Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan” is a methodology on how evacuations are planned to take into account all people likely to be at a particular site or complex. It will ensure that procedures are in place to facilitate a quick yet safe egress. Failure to consider this element may be interpreted as discrimination as well as being a breach of current fire safety legislation.

Evacuation plans are put in place for very good reasons and again, the environments we are looking at are probably some of the most challenging. With a mix of issues, including some already mentioned, there are visitors to consider who are unfamiliar with the layout and procedures in place. Some may not use English as a first language or speak English at all and then there is the risk of terrorism associated with many ports of entry for both people and materials.

Just looking at the issues above shows how the differing elements converge to form a single action plan to make each site safe and to pre-empt all risks that may occur in the day to day operation of what is, after all, a business. This is where commercialism has to be considered as any business needs to be profitable and effective and the risk associated with business continuity must also be assessed.

A point worth mentioning is that 80% of single site businesses fail within 18 months of a fire.

Ray Puttock Head of Marketing for EMS Radio Fire & Security Systems Ltd asks “If the worst happens are you ready and would you be able to continue after any incidents? Fire risk assessment is crucial and necessary to your business as well as being a requirement under law: are you compliant, are you, your employees and visitors safe and could you survive a fire?”