Ensuring the right culture is in place is crucial for fire safety within a workplace. Dr David Gold, chair of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) Fire Risk Management Group, examines who is responsible for instilling this culture among workers.
There are many safety and health risks faced by businesses in the modern world.
One of these is the risk posed by fire. Every business, no matter where in the world they are, needs to ensure that their employees and members of the public are not put at risk from fire.
To do so, they need to have a fire prevention strategy in place. However even with a strong fire prevention strategy they should also have incident management plans to ensure people do not come to harm should a fire happen.
Key to all of this is having the right culture throughout the workplace; a culture where everyone looks out for each other and one where everyone recognises their responsibility to act upon or report any hazards they come across immediately.
The vital link in instilling such a culture within a business is the occupational safety and health (OSH) professional. Fire safety – both fire prevention and fire protection – is part of what they do, albeit a very important part.
That was the basis of a discussion at a Parliamentary reception in London on fire safety held by the IOSH Fire Risk Management Group recently.
Delegates at the event, who included MPs and Peers, heard that we must ensure that fire safety is very much on the map when it comes to OSH, whether it is in the UK or any other part of the world.
Building a culture
There is of course a fire services adage that there are three main causes of fire: men, women and children. IOSH focuses on developing safety cultures in organisations where everyone works together and looks after each other to avoid workplace injuries or work-related ill health, with leadership and management playing a key role. Building such cultures of prevention needs to include a process of life-long learning, which is where OSH professionals come in.
In workplaces, employees will often come across a situation they are uncomfortable with, which pose danger to either themselves or their colleagues.
A number of these situations could be fire-related. It could be a source of fuel, such as waste, cardboard boxes, or flammable liquids which have not been properly stored. It could also be a source of heat, such as hot surfaces or open flames. Frequently, fire protection may be compromised, such as obstructed passageways and emergency exits.
We want to build a culture where workers do not accept such situations and take action for either correcting it or reporting it. If they don’t then it may lead to others being harmed.
We don’t want them to ignore it, thinking either it isn’t worth reporting because the likelihood of any harm being caused is low, their concern won’t be taken seriously or the next person who recognises the risk will act on it.
So, how do OSH professionals build this culture? And what challenges must they overcome in doing so, including from those at the highest level?
If you take the example of the government in the UK, there is a separation of the responsibility for fire safety, which falls under the Home Office, and the regulation of occupational safety and health, which falls under the Health and Safety Executive. In the workplace, however, the overall responsibility for both rests with top management, with the technical support of the individual or unit responsible for health, safety and environment.
This separation sometimes means that fire safety can fall through the cracks, but it doesn’t have to be the case, nor should it be.
To overcome this, the OSH professional needs to maintain the knowledge and skills to continually assess risks, including fire-related risks. They also need to be continually engaged in assisting top management in building and maintaining organisational policy, enabling measures to ensure fire prevention and fire protection, fire safety planning, and training and drills. In addition, should an incident occur, they need to ensure emergency management, crisis management and business continuity. The OSH professional is frequently an integral part of the on-site incident management team.
This is not to say that OSH professionals have sole responsibility for fire safety, far from it. All workers have a responsibility. But what OSH professionals do have is a key role to play in the overall effort to ensure workers are not harmed by fire, starting from building the right culture.
This can be done in many ways, including training and educating employees in fire safety and getting messages across about whose responsibility it is.
OSH professionals must be fire safety competent
I recently became chair of the IOSH Fire Risk Management Group. The group is one of many which represents IOSH members across various industries. Our group has 3,000 members. But it is not just these members who have fire safety as part of their remit – it is all OSH professionals.
This is a message we are keen to get out there as a committee and was one we focused on during the IOSH event, which was held in early September 2016 and was arranged to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.
I was delighted to be able to give a presentation on behalf of the International Labour Organization. We also heard from Brian Robinson, from the Fire Sector Federation, IOSH Vice-President Andrew Sharman and Gary Laird, former Chair of our Fire Risk Management Group.
The causes of that huge fire in 1666 and the reasons behind its rapid spread from the bakery in Pudding Lane right across the UK capital city are of course well known, and many lessons were learned as a result of it.
London today is a vastly-different city and across the world the number of deaths from fires continues to fall, which is something we are pleased to see.
But that does not mean that we can be complacent about fire safety. Fires do still happen, including in business as well as domestic premises, and people are killed or injured by them.
Fire safety cultures should be central to a building from the beginning. It should be considered right from the design stage.
So, in essence, OSH professionals have a role to play in fire safety from the design stage of a building right the way through to it being in use and beyond. They must ensure that there is no complacency about fire, both among senior leaders and the rest of the workforce.
Just because a business premises hasn’t had a fire does not mean you can sit back and relax. It is vital that all organisations effectively plan for, train and review incident resilience and business continuity plans.
We all need to take responsibility.
IOSH Fire Risk Management Group
The event in the Houses of Parliament was the latest to be held by IOSH’s Fire Risk Management Group.
We currently have over 3,000 members, who we support through providing networking opportunities and helping with their career development. We also work with the Fire Sector Federation and industry committees to ensure our members’ opinions are heard.
Fire Risk Management is one of 16 IOSH groups. These represent a variety of different industries, from construction and offshore to railways and education.
The institution itself has over 46,000 members in 120 countries and is the the world’s biggest professional health and safety organisation.
It sets standards, and supports, develops and connects members with resources, guidance, events and training. It is the voice of the profession, and campaigns on issues that affect millions of working people.
IOSH was founded in 1945 and is a registered charity with international NGO status.
For more information, go to www.iosh.co.uk