Business safety and fire regulations
Compliance is lacking
It is estimated that a large number of South African businesses are estimated not compliant with basic fire safety requirements, as business owners are either unaware of regulations or only comply with minimum requirements in order to save money. While the costs associated with implementing safe practices and install safety equipment can be prohibitive, business owners have a legal and moral obligation to ensure that they create a safe working environment for their employees. The reality is that if employees were injured, or even died, as a result of a negligent or non-compliant fire prevention system, the business owner can potentially be held personally liable which could lead to costly litigation.
The insurance contract places the duty of care upon the business owner to ensure that the relevant legal requirements for prevention of loss, as well as other best practices, are implemented to avoid any such hazards.
Business owners need to ensure that they fully comprehend the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) which grants employees, and anyone else who visits the premises, the right to a healthy and safe working environment. Ideally, a trustworthy and approved assessor should conduct a thorough fire risk assessment to ensure that the business meets all the necessary requirements and receives the appropriate certification.
Every type of building needs to comply with the Building and Occupancy Act (SANS 10400) in terms of the firefighting equipment required. This is supposed to be monitored by the local fire department but due to insufficient resources, this often doesn’t happen.
It is prudent to contract a reputable organisation to sell and maintain your business’ fire equipment. However, as the South African fire industry is largely unregulated, business owners should insist on such a company being registered with the SAQCC (South African Qualification & Certification Committee) which will ensure that you are working with a competent and qualified company.
It is vital that your business premises are equipped with the required quantity and type of fire extinguishers, and that these are properly maintained and serviced regularly. To comply with legislation, business owners should have a fire strategy and evacuation measures in place to provide safe passage for all people in the case of an emergency.
The Act requires that all buildings must be designed, constructed and equipped so that the people in the building are always safe and protected. The spread of a fire to any other buildings, and the generation and spread of smoke must be minimised. In addition, adequate equipment to detect, fight and extinguish a fire must be provided.
An insufficient fire protection programme could be construed as a breach of the insurance contract and can result in claims not being paid.
As the warmer season approaches, especially in the more fire-prone areas like the Eastern and Western Cape, businesses need to ensure that all necessary fire safety assessments have been done and that the regulatory standards are met to guarantee the safety of all employees and visitors to the premises.