A huge fire in Durban, South Africa at the end of March, believed to be one of the largest factory fires ever in the Southern Hemisphere, has raised concerns about fire prevention and risk management at large industrial estates.
Large warehouses must have a suitable automatic fire-detection system installed. This is critical in order to alert occupants of a fire as quickly as possible, especially given the large size of such warehouses, so they have sufficient time to evacuate the premises. “This will allow on-site first respondents to tackle a fire before it grows out of control,” ASP Fire CEO, Michael van Niekerk, points out. At the blaze in Durban, 400 firefighters battled 15 hours to get the inferno under control.
Fire-hose reels and fire extinguishers are essential elements of a first respondent capability to suppress a fire successfully before it grows too large in order to be able control. An appropriate fire-suppression system such as automatic sprinklers will control a fire, provided that the product stored in the protected area does not exceed the fire load that the sprinkler system was designed to control.
Large industrial warehouse estates, and those used by logistics companies in particular, are at risk when they do not own the goods stored in their buildings. Clients do not always declare the fire risks associated with hazardous goods, as they are either unaware of the hazard, or are trying to avoid paying a premium for the handling and storage of hazardous goods.
“The net result is that the actual fire load or fire hazard of the goods stored in the building far exceeds the designed fire load of the building in terms of its construction, and the fire detection, fire suppression, and life-safety systems,” van Niekerk points out.
“It is also difficult to manage access in and out of a very large warehouse site. Buildings that cover many thousands of square metres are not necessarily staffed to a level that allows for a fire to be detected and suppressed rapidly,” he adds.
ASP Fire is able to conduct a fire-risk assessment to determine whether the actual fire load within a building exceeds the installed fire-protection system design. “We are able to advise a client accordingly, and assist them with a suitable fire-protection strategy and system design to cater for the likely worst-case scenario that could be faced in the course of normal operations. ASP Fire offers turnkey fire protection projects, so we can also supply, install and maintain fire protection equipment in buildings,” van Niekerk explains.
In terms of regulations, fire protection in a warehouse environment stems mainly from SANS 10400-T: Application of the National Building Regulations Act, Fire Protection; SANS 10287: Automatic Sprinkler Installations for Firefighting Purposes; SANS 10139: Fire Detection and Alarm Systems for Buildings (System Design, Installation and Servicing); SANS 10228: The Identification and Classification of Dangerous Goods for Transport; and SANS10263-0: Warehousing of Dangerous Goods. Local municipal emergency service or fire brigade by-laws are also applicable.
Van Niekerk stresses that the main lesson to be learnt from the recent Durban inferno is that, ultimately, prevention is better than cure. “It is far cheaper and less disruptive to your business to stop a fire before it starts, than to try and put it out once it gets going. Do not rely on the fire department or your insurer to advise you of any fire-protection shortcomings,” he warns.
“Rather contact a fire consultant like ASP Fire and we will assess your fire risks and advise you as to what practical steps can be taken to, firstly, reduce or eliminate fire hazards and risks through implementing or changing processes or procedures.
“Secondly, we can advise you on appropriate fire-protection equipment required where fire hazards cannot be eliminated or reduced to a level where they do not pose a threat to the building, the operations of the business, or the lives of employees and visitors to the site,” he concludes.