In today’s fast-paced business world, regular assessments of the fire safety risks in a commercial building are often postponed as an operator may be of the opinion that these audits are a huge task. However, when undertaken as an on-going process, walkabout audits can be easily conducted block by block within the original or modified building grid. Once the results are assembled, the fire safety auditors can confirm whether the combined fire safety risks are minimal or significant. Changes to workplace floor layout, furniture layout or internal partitions could limit the ability of employees to notice a fire, and affect the time required for an escape. Similarly, an increase in the number of employees or a change in work shifts can dilute awareness and accountability regarding fire safety. In fact, any structural or organizational changes may introduce new hazards or risks for employees and visitors. Industrial buildings in particular require an active fire safety risk assessment, including a review of work processes, the storage of flammable and combustible liquids, and the determination of equipment load factors that may cause ignition. It is critical to continually document findings noted during each fire safety risk assessment. In time, the building personnel performing the assessments will become more skilled in identifying trivial versus significant changes that may affect safety.
Unfortunately, there are areas in a building which have hidden dangers, and may rarely be inspected as part of a fire safety risk assessment. These include the ceiling and floor voids, lift shafts, and ductwork systems, all of which can become serious fire safety hazards. Computer systems and telecommunication networks are being upgraded at an ever-increasing rate as new technology is introduced. Retrofits in modern offices can lead to a heavy concentration of combustibles, such as cabling, in concealed spaces. The increased potential for the spread of fire within ceiling and floor voids has lead to new fire-testing requirements for cable manufacturers. Nevertheless, the installation of combustible materials is often uncontrolled, and there may be several generations of obsolete cable lying in a ceiling or floor void. This creates an unrecognized fire load throughout the building. Fire safety standards that apply to electrical cabling are well established, but it is not commonly known that there are fire standards specifically for electric and fibre-optic cables used for voice or data transfer. The fire risks where communication cables run through ceiling and floor voids may well become a major threat, especially as fires in these areas can spread quickly and remain unnoticed. For this reason, building operators must be informed by their tenants, or the cabling trades who do work for them, regarding the types of cables being installed and the methods used to secure them. In addition, building operators are to be notified of any penetrations made in the fire separation junctions whenever cables or other utilities are installed.
This article was contributed by Firepoint Inc, serving the GTA since 1997, developing fire department approved fire safety plans for newly constructed and existing buildings. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, the bulletin publishers and authors do not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current and shall not be liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the bulletin information. Bulletin reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the written consent of Firepoint Inc. Copyright 2021 – All Rights Reserved. See www.firepoint.ca or call 905-874-9400.