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Times of Oman - 11.02.2015


Deaths in the work place are always tragic and deaths due to fire in the work place are even more tragic as there is often an element of neglect and or ignorance attached to these deaths. 

There have been a frighteningly large number of incidents in the recent past where huge numbers of people have died as a direct result of a non-existent fire safety culture in the work place. The fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2012 which claimed the lives of more than 100 people was a classic example of safety regulations being ignored.  

In this circumstance, ignoring safety regulations led to the outbreak of fire and also presented the attending emergency services with great difficulty in trying to assist those trapped by the fire. Even when there are no immediate casualties, emergency services must be trained to reduce the possibility of incident escalation by implementing effective incident management protocols. 

The need for this was evident at the recent hotel fire in Seeb adjacent to a petrol station where normal business was allowed to continue in spite of the inferno just meters away.

Fire safety in general is not rocket science and very much common sense. However, people are still dying needlessly. 

Paying an annual premium for insurance against such disasters is perhaps important, but not as important as ensuring procedures are in place to avoid such incidents happening – and if they do, that the appropriate training and procedures are in place to mitigate injury or loss of life.  

It is vital that national fire safety regulations are implemented and monitored and that ALL staff are trained in basic fire awareness and what their responsibilities are in the event of fire. Insurance policies, adhering to fire regulations and staff training are often viewed as an expensive inconvenience and as such are ignored at great cost — perhaps we have seen the results of this in Buraimi with the tragic 
loss of six lives. 

Some companies start with good intentions and their newly constructed business premises do conform to current legislative safety requirements and often do provide fire training for staff but then systematically fail to maintain the standards required by the legislation, ignore good housekeeping practices, fail to ensure the continued competency of their staff by undertaking refresher training and completely fail to pick up the training of new employees as they join.  

Very few companies offer induction training to their employees showing them where the fire exits are, advising them what to do in the event of an evacuation or any reference to good housekeeping.  

Good housekeeping is vital to reduce the potential for and the impact of a fire e.g. cleaning up of machinery and work stations, safe storage of chemicals, keeping exits clear, knowing how to use a fire extinguishers etc.

Fortunately, there are companies in Oman who take safety, particularly fire safety seriously and rigorously monitor their policies and procedures and educate their staff to ensure competency and compliance — but unfortunately this does not spread far enough. 

The provision of fire safety regulations, including building fire codes, the availability of appropriate training for staff is insufficient – companies need to have policies and procedures in place that are implemented and monitored on a regular basis. 

The responsibility for creating a fire safety culture lies firmly with the authorities and business owners.  All employees should be encouraged to raise any issues that they identify and a 'no blame' culture should be fostered. 

The emergency services must set the example by undertaking the highest level of training available, ensuring the continued competence of all those they employ, visiting premises, particularly unannounced for high risk premises in order to monitor compliance, to makes sure that owners and tenants alike are taking their responsibility seriously and to offer advice.  

Sadly, all we can do is to try and reduce the occurrence of fire and mitigate its effects when it does occur .We cannot eliminate it completely so the creation and maintenance of a fire safety culture is paramount in order to safeguard physical assets and more importantly, lives.

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