Every year, more than a million fire incidences are reported in the United States. More specifically, figures published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) show that fires caused 3,240 fatalities, 15,925 injuries, and $11.5 billion worth of property damage in 2013 alone. Out of these 487,500 fires involved properties, 188,000 involved vehicles, and 564,500 occurred outdoors. Although it is impossible to prevent fire outbreaks, individuals and organizations can take steps to minimize this risk. An effective way of doing is by carrying out a fire safety analysis (FSA).
An Overview of Fire Safety Analysis
Fire safety analysis (FSA) is the process of evaluating the causes, impact, and consequences of fires in a specific location with the aim of minimizing the risk of fire outbreaks in the future. In most parts of the US, structures or installations such as LPG plants, propane gas tanks, and almost all manufacturing facilities must meet certain FSA requirements. For example, LPG storage tanks and containers must undergo fire safety analysis in accordance with the NFPA’s Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code. Qualified fire engineers or local fire safety officials usually carry out this analysis.
Fire Safety Analysis Framework
Before proceeding further, it is worth noting that there is no standard FSA framework. One can design and use a FSA framework that meets NFPA requirements. Nevertheless, the accepted norm is to use a framework that is similar to the NFPA’s Fire Safety Concepts Tree. Alternatively, you could use a FSA framework prepared by a qualified fire safety engineer or expert. Such a framework should include:
• Definition of fire hazards
• Identification of potential fire hazards at a specific location
• Likelihood of fires spreading to neighboring properties/structures
• Likelihood of fires causing fatalities or injuries
• Fire escape/access routes
• Firefighting measures in place. This includes overhead water sprinklers, high-pressure water hoses, and fire extinguishers
• Capability of local fire fighters to handle fire at a specific location
• Expected response times of local firefighters and emergency responders
• Procedures for extinguishing fires caused by propellants and explosives
The good news is you can download and use the NFPA’s FSA manual. This manual provides step-by-step guidance to ensure you complete a fire safety analysis in accordance with the NFPA, Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), and National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) guidelines.
Fire Safety Concept Tree (FSCT)
The Fire Safety Concept Tree (FSCT) is a systematic approach to analyzing and addressing fire safety problems. The top of this tree is made up of “Fire safety objective(s)”. It then branches into two: “Prevent fire ignition” and “Manage fire impact.” Each of these branches has several branches covering various aspects of fire safety. To learn more about the FSCT, visit the NFPA’s website.
Factors That Determine the Effectiveness of a FSA
Although the aim of a typical FSA is to reduce the risk of serious fire outbreaks, this outcome depends on various factors. The first factor is fire detection and alarm. After a fire breaks out in a residential building, inhabitants have minutes to escape. This is where fire/smoke detectors and alarms come in handy to help residents head to the nearest exit points.
Secondly, human behavior and egress must be considered. When carrying out fire safety analysis, you have to consider human behavior during a fire. In most cases, people panic and head for exit points in a chaotic manner further compounding the safety of others.
Thirdly, use active and passive fire suppression systems. Active fire suppression systems extinguish or control the development of a fire. Such a system could operate automatically or require human interaction (manual fire suppressor). On the other hand, passive fire suppression refers to structural stability and structural components that could limit further spread of a fire.
The Benefits of a Fire Safety Analysis
Carrying out fire safety analysis has several advantages. To begin, such an analysis improves safety in the workplace. Remember, the steps you take to reduce likelihood of a fire outbreak such as installing fire sprinklers or well-labeled emergency exit points can make a huge difference during a fire outbreak. Secondly, a fire safety analysis can help you identify and minimize the risk of fire outbreaks that could cause serious damage to property. For a startup or SMB, a serious fire outbreak could lead to suspension of business activities for an extended period or even bankruptcy.
Thirdly, this analysis can help you reduce the likelihood of fires spreading to neighboring structures and causing further damage, fatalities, or injuries.
Fourthly, insurers usually give discounts to individuals or organizations that take fire safety seriously. Depending on the size of your business, these discounts could run into thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Fifthly, compliance with local, state, or federal fire safety requirements is important. Take note that some government agencies or large businesses may refuse to do business with a company that does not comply with certain state/federal regulations.
Sixthly, reduce your carbon footprint. Fires release huge amounts of pollutants, which have a negative impact on the environment. A report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that pollutants from forest fires could affect air quality for thousands of kilometers. In addition, a study carried out by researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that fires release nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons that deplete the ozone layer.
Every commercial building owner should take a fire safety analysis seriously. The rule of thumb is to hire a qualified fire safety engineer to carry out this analysis and recommend safety measures where necessary. This analysis could follow the NFPA’s Fire Safety Concept Tree guidelines. The main benefits of such analysis include improved safety at the workplace, insurance discounts, and environmental protection.
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