Fire safety audit : The need of hour
Fire safety audit is an effective tool for assessing fire safety standards of an organization or occupancy. A comprehensive fire safety audit should address the inherent fire hazardous associated with the day to day activities in an occupancy and recommend measures to reduce the potential fire hazards.
Mr.R.R.Nair has more than 40 year’s exposure
in Occupational Safety, Health & Fire Protection.
He is author of 15 books & more than 55 articles
in various topics on Safety, Health & Environment.
He has carried out more than 45 safety audits in
various industries and high rise buildings.
Ensuring life safety is the most essential aspect of all building codes. In India, the 2005 version of the National Building Code (NBC) is representing the present state of knowledge on various aspects of building construction, which is followed by all most all parts of the country. The NBC as a whole is the basic model code for all other codes in the country and by and large most of the states and local bodies in India have adopted many of the code provisions in their own building regulations. The Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Rules, 2009, framed under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Act, 2006, are mostly based on NBC Part 4. According to section 3 of the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006, the developer, owner, occupier or whatever name called, shall comply with all the fire and safety measures, adhering to the National Building Code of India, 2005, and as amended from time to time, failing which, it shall be treated as a violation of the said Act. It means that the onus of maintaining and documenting the fire safety installations in a building is the responsibility of the building owner or occupier.
Further, as per section 10 of the said Act, no person other than a “Licensed Agency” shall carry out the work of providing fire prevention and life safety measures or performing such other related activities required to be carried out in any place or building or part therefore; provided that, if the Chief Fire Officer is satisfied that, for any reason to be recorded in writing, the owner or occupier is not able to carry out the fire prevention and fire safety measures in any such place or building or part thereof through a “Licensed Agency”, he may authorize any person or persons he thinks fit to carry out such work, and any work carried out by such authorized person or persons shall be deemed to be carried out by a “Licensed Agency”. No Licensed Agency or any other person claiming to be such “Licensed Agency” shall give a certificate under sub-section (3) of section 3 regarding the compliance of the fire prevention and life safety measures or maintenance thereof in good repair and efficient condition, without there being actual such compliance or maintenance. To fulfill the requirements of section 10, the Directorate of Maharashtra Fire Services has so far approved the names of 160 agencies as “Licensed Agency”.
A fire can happen at any time at any place. The recent major fires that occurred in various parts of country during the last few months, reinforce the view that a fire can happen at any place. You can expect a fire at any structure, irrespective of its occupancy status – residential / commercial / industrial / hospitals / theaters / malls and so on… It means that a fire in any structure has the potential to cause harm to its occupants and property. However, when it comes to residential buildings, in particular, high rise buildings, the problem becomes more complex and poses very high risk to the life and property of its occupants. The magnitude of the problem can be reduced only when the structures are designed, constructed, equipped, maintained and operated with a view to save the life and property of its occupants. Therefore, any structure or building should be erected only after meeting the basic infrastructure needed to protect them from fire and explosion, and even to withstand natural calamities like earthquake, lightening, etc.
NBC recommends for periodical fire safety inspection by the key personnel of the occupants of the building. to ensure fire safety standards. In case of industrial buildings the statutory authorities insist for fire safety audits by external agencies depending on the type of activity and nature of materials handled in the buildings. The Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Rules, 2009, made it mandatory for building owners and residents to conduct half – yearly fire safety audits and submit the report to the fire department. As per the directive of Directorate of Maharashtra Fire Services, the safety audit has to be conducted by the ‘Licensed Agency” approved by them. In the light of above, it would be interesting for the readers to know some of the salient aspects of fire safety audit, which are dealt in the proceeding parts of this article.
2. FIRE SAFETY AUDIT :
The fire safety audit is an examination of the buildings / structures and relevant documents to ascertain how the buildings are being managed regarding fire safety. In other words it is aimed to assess the building for compliance with the National Building Code of India, relevant Indian Standards and the legislations passed by various state governments and local bodies, on fire prevention and life safety measures. Safety Audit is a form of risk analysis and evaluation in which a systematic investigation is carried out in order to determine the extent to which the conditions are present that provide for the development and implementation of an affective and efficient safety policy. The main objective of safety audit is to carry out a systematic, critical appraisal of all potential hazards involving personnel, plant services and operation method, and to ensure that safety and health system fully satisfy the legal requirements. Depending on the requirements of the occupancy, the audit can focus attention on various aspects of a safety system such as fire and explosion prevention, protection and emergency management.
3. SCOPE OF AUDIT :
Fire Safety audit is found to be an effective tool for assessing fire safety standards of an organization or an occupancy. It helps the people to identify the areas for improvement and evolve an action plan. A comprehensive fire safety audit is a structured and systematic examination of an organization or occupancy to identify the hazards from fire. In other words, the fire safety audits are structured to check current adequacy of components, services and equipment; report of the expected performance, make recommendations for the compliance with the existing building rules, regulations, codes and standards, and the requirement of providing a safe place for living or carry out commercial or industrial activities. It is presumed that a comprehensive fire safety audit can cover various aspects which are related to design, operation and maintenance of the facilities, and even the review of inherent fire hazards associated with the day to day activities in a building. It assesses the building for compliance with the existing building codes, national standards and the building fire safety regulations. In addition to complete building auditing, they can even be tailored to suit a specific fire protection system. The audit findings are generally published in a report which also provides recommendations on how to remedy any non-compliance that were identified. Thus the fire safety audits will allow us to identify any non conformances and / or provide recommendations to the client allowing them to attend to these matters and therefore seek to achieve compliance with relevant legislation. It may be remembered here that the fire safety audits are not limited to a desk top review of available documentations or a visual inspection. On the contrary an active system test can also be carried out to ensure all systems operate and interface as designed and included in a fire safety audit report.
4. OBJECTIVES OF AUDIT
The objectives of Fire Safety Audit can be focused on the following:
- Identify all significant fire hazards.
- Identify the people who are at risk from each hazards.
- Evaluate the existing control measures.
- Determine the additional control measures required.
- Examine the availability of suitable emergency plan detailing responsibility and action of key personnel.
- Review the availability of suitable fire alarm and detection system.
- Review the availability of suitable fire fighting facilities, such as hydrants, sprinklers, extinguishers, etc.
- Evaluate passive fire protection systems provided.
- Evaluate the general awareness of occupants and security personnel on matters relating to fire safety and rescue operations.
- Evaluate the training and instructions on fire safety imparted to the employees and occupants.
- Testing of all fire safety equipment and systems.
5. FIRE SAFETY INSPECTION :
Fire safety inspections are a check of all fire safety procedures, installations and records within a building structures to determine compliance with appropriate legislation and regulation. A fire safety inspection helps to ensure that the owners and occupiers of buildings are meeting their responsibilities under the legislation, that buildings are fitted with correct fire safety installations required by the fire safety standard, and that these fire safety installations are maintained in an operational condition. Thus, building occupiers are required to ensure that all fire safety installations in their building are maintained in accordance with fire safety regulations / codes prevailed from time to time. The occupiers are also required to keep records of maintenance of their fire safety installations in the building. The fire safety inspection will involve an inspection of the building’s fire safety installations and an inspection of the maintenance records for each of the fire safety installations in the building.
Normally, the inspection checklist will be completed during the inspection of the property and the owner / occupier will receive, a copy of the completed checklist signed by the inspecting officer. If no problems are found to exit, the inspection is complete. Where it is found that the building does not comply with legislative requirements or that fire safety systems have not been correctly maintained, the faults will be noted on the inspection report together with the action required by the owner / occupier and the time by which the owner / occupier must have faults corrected. Fire safety inspection is a visual check of fire safety in a building using a standard fire safety inspection checklist of legislative requirements. The Directorate of Maharashtra Fire Safety Services, has framed a fire safety checklist for buildings, which covers many areas such as the ownership, structural details, active and passive fire protection installations of the building, fire prevention and awareness measures to be followed, etc.
The checklist recommended by the Directorate of Maharashtra Fire Services are only a sample and if necessary, it can be extended to include many other areas. Fire Safety inspections are generally carried out by the qualified officers of the local fire brigade or an agency authorized by the local fire brigade or fire safety consultants. For example, in Maharashtra, fire safety inspections of the buildings are carried out by the ‘Licensed Agency’, approved by the Directorate of Fire Services.
6. FIRE SAFETY SURVEY :
Fire safety survey, is an assessment of the building against all legislative requirements, such as, a check of evacuation instructions given to employees and residents, a check of the records of maintenance of fire safety installations and an operational test of these fire safety installations. In other words, a fire safety survey will involve a check of the structural aspects of the building, such as, travel distances to exits and emergency escapes, etc. The survey also checks the level of compliance with the legislative requirements and that all required fire safety systems are installed, functioning and being correctly maintained. Any deficiencies detailed in the fire safety survey report must be resolved to the satisfaction of the inspecting officer within the timeframe specified in the report. A re-inspection should be carried out following the deadline given to rectify any deficiencies to ensure that all faults have been corrected. The report may also contain one or more recommendations about fire safety in the building. These recommendations need not be legislative requirements, but are matters that the inspecting officer believes will assist the owner / occupier to further improve fire safety in their building.
After a fire safety survey, a report can be prepared and issued to the building owner / occupier confirming the findings of the survey, noting which fire safety system are adequate and highlighting any deficiencies. Where a deficiency is noted, the owner / occupier should be given a specified time in which to rectify the problem. The time period given for the owner to correct the problem may vary depending upon the nature of the problem and the time likely to be required to rectify it.
Fire safety audit is an effective tool for assessing fire safety standards of an organization or an occupancy. A comprehensive fire safety audit should address the inherent fire hazardous associated with the day to day activities in an occupancy and recommend measures to reduce the potential fire hazards. In spite of bringing stringent fire safety regulations by many state governments and local bodies, still the numbers of fires in the country are on the increase, resulting in the loss of many life and property. An effective building maintenance policy is an essential feature of fire prevention. However, it is observed, that a large number of occupancies do not have dedicated maintenance staff and as a result, most of the maintenance scheduling and documentation is handled by an employee with no experience with maintenance procedures or legislative requirements. It is also observed that many of the occupants and owners have not been aware, that many of the fire safety features of their building had not been maintained in accordance with the legislative requirements.
Lack of awareness on fire safety norms were observed not only from the occupants, but also from some agencies who were involved in the installation and maintenance of fire fighting systems. In Maharashtra, although a list of “Licensed Agency” has been drawn with a view to ensure that the installations and maintenance of fire safety systems are to be done as per the fire safety norms, one doubt, that how many of these agencies are really capable and sincere in carrying out the work, which can meet the required fire safety norms. Similarly, when the responsibility of conducting fire safety audit has been given to the ‘Licensed Agencies’, it is presumed that all these agencies have the required knowledge and experience in conducting a fire safety audit without ambiquity. It seems that the enforcement agencies are faced with a severe shortage of trained and experienced manpower, No doubt, the onus of ensuring safety from fires, lies with the owners and occupants. However, the responsibility for certifying the effectiveness of fire safety system in a building has been entrusted to the ‘Licensed Agency’. Whether this decision can bring the desired objectives or not, cannot be commended now. Let us hope for the better.
8. REFRENCES :
- Alcock, PA – Safety Audit and Inspection. Industrial Safety Data File, United Trade Press Ltd., London, 1982.
- Development Control Regulation of Greater Bombay
- Fire Protection Handbook, 19th Edition, National Fire Protection Association, USA.
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- Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006.
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- Nair, R. R. and R. Veeraraghavan, Fire Technology (CEP Publication). Bangalore, All India Council for Technical Education, 2002.
- Nair, R. R. –Fire Safety Audits carried out in a number of high rise buildings in Mumbai during the year 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
- Nair, R. R. –Fire Safety Audits carried out in a number of hospitals in Maharashtra & Gujarat during the year 2012.
- National Building Code of India 2005 – Bureau of Indian Standards, New Delhi, 2007.
- Safety and Fire Protection Handbook, edited by R. Veeraraghavan, 2nd Edition, Mumbai, Safe Technology, 2009.
- U.K. Chemical Industries Association – Safety Audits: a guide for the chemical industries, 1987.