Most fires are preventable. People responsible for workplaces and other facilities to which the public has access can prevent them by adopting appropriate behaviors and procedures and taking responsibility for them.
Any building, and therefore any workplace, is susceptible to fire. The generalized presence of this risk implies the need for a normative regulation that avoids or minimizes, as far as possible, the effects of the same.
Three elements are required for a fire to start: an ignition source (heat), a fuel source (something that burns), and oxygen:
- Ignition sources include space heaters, lighting fixtures, open flames, electrical equipment, smoking materials (cigarettes, matches, etc.), and anything that can reach high temperatures or cause sparks;
- Fuel sources include wood, paper, plastic, rubber or foam, loose packaging materials, debris and furniture; and
- Oxygen sources include the air around us.
Building and industrial regulations place more emphasis on fire protection aspects. Still, from an occupational point of view, we cannot forget the fundamental facet of fire prevention and the proper management of human, technical, and material resources during evacuation and the provision of first aid.
Most fire deaths occur in preventable residential areas. Fire safety in buildings requires a holistic approach to prevent the start of any fire and contain and extinguish it; here are some tips to achieve this.
First, the start of a fire must be prevented. Understanding the causes and risk factors for this is the starting point to inform practical prevention efforts through technical and human-related measures. The leading causes of accidental fires are smoking, electrical faults, cooking, and carelessness with ignition sources such as matches or candles.
When a fire occurs, it is essential to detect it as early as possible so that building occupants have sufficient time to react, including safe evacuation and early extinguishment of the fire. Smoke will not wake up in time in the event of a fire during the night; only smoke alarms and detectors will. These are vital to enable timely evacuation. It is recommended that smoke detectors be installed inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on each residential building level.
Alarms should be interconnected to alert all building occupants, ensuring that smoke alarms are correctly placed, sufficient in number, and functioning correctly.
When a fire occurs, a manual extinguisher or automatic sprinklers can stop in the first few minutes. The vast majority of fires in sprinkler-protected buildings are controlled or extinguished by the on-site system. Sprinklers are designed primarily to contain or prevent fires, but they can also be instrumental in saving people’s lives in the room of origin of the fire.
If a fire starts and cannot be stopped immediately, safe evacuation of building occupants is the priority. Having access to and knowledge of sound, well-lit, short, smoke-free escape routes is essential. Therefore, escape routes should be included in the building design as part of a holistic approach to fire safety. The target time to evacuate a building in the event of fire varies with the size of the building. Blocked or cluttered escape routes can be a significant problem.
Regulations already set minimum requirements for the provision of safety signs at work, including emergency escape routes. In residential buildings, people need to know their evacuation plans and practice evacuation drills.
When a fire occurs, fire departments must arrive as soon as possible to evacuate occupants, fight the fire and prevent it from spreading further. Firefighting requires state-of-the-art equipment, training, and expertise. Research, knowledge sharing, and training can be further organized and supported through the advice of professionals in the field, consult them.