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Things to check to see if your workplace is "Fire Safe"

Earlier this week, we heard about the sad news of 72 workers being lost in a factory fire in Valenzuela City. It's quite sad when people aren't accorded the opportunity to find safety when it could have been easily planned for and provided.

Today, I'd like to talk about some simple things you can check in your workplace to see if they have planned for your safety during fires. I'd like to clarify, this is not an exhaustive list as the fire code of the Philippines is about 460-plus pages long, not to mention the codes and standards of the Natonal Fire Protection Association, which the fire code refers to. What I'm providing is a simple list that would be indicatative if the your workplace shows signs of proper planning for health and safety during fires.

1. Fire Exit

It is a requirement in the fire code that there must be a minimum of 2 means of escape from any location of your workplace (this quantity would vary depending on the usage of the space and number of occupants on the floor). This means that if you are working, for example, in a high rise building there must be atleast 2 fire exits leading to 2 separate fire stairs which are accesible to you. Very likely, these doors are either on the end of your corridor or near the elevator area. Your fire exit must swing in the direction of escape and must be atleast 710mm wide clear opening (about 2 and 1/2 rulers long). It must be clearly identified as a fire door and must never be locked from the inside (people outside may not come in but people from the inside should be able to come out)

2 Fire Exit signage

Properly lit exit & directional signs shall be provided to show location and direction of the exit, The sign should be 150mm (6 inches) in height and should be in contrasting colors and can easily be seen. It must be located in a visible height, to serve as your guide during the event of fire.

3. Fire Extinguishers

Fire extignushers vary in 4 classes depeding on the source of fire it is to fight:

a. Class A: fires involving ordinary combustible solid materials

b. Class B: fires in flammable and combustible liquid and gas

c. Class C: fires involving energized electrical equipment

d. Class D: fires involving combustible metal fires

Generally, there should be an available fire extinguisher within 15m (about 30 steps) from any point in your workplace.

4. Emergency evacuation plan

An emergency evacuation plan or a fire escape plan should be displayed in a conspicuous area. For high rise buildings, this would usually be near the elevator. It would show the escape routes, location of fire exits, fire extinguishers, hose reels etc. It would be best to familiarize yourself with this plan so you would know where to go in case of an emergency.

These 4 items are just the tip of the iceberg, as there is much planning that is required with regards to health and safety during fires. You will not see most of these things just by observing. Some of them would include the distances of travel during escape, fire rating of your doors and walls (compartmentation), smoke control during fire, proper planning of access for the fire truck in fighing fire all around your building, proper detection, alarm and notification systems and a myriad of other items that your architect and your fire protection engineer consider when they design your building.

But if you can see these 4 items in your workplace and they are kept in proper working order, chances are, your place has been carefully planned and you will have a good chance at escape and safety during emergency.

However, if you see none of these items in your workplace, I'd seriously consider not entering that structure again or atleast notifying the authorities about the matter. In any building, structure, home or workplace, nothing is more important than the occupants' life and safety. To the 72 men who lost their lives in Valenzuela, let's take some time to say a prayer for them, For the people responsible, let's pray that justice be served and that nothing like this ever happens again.

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