Over 200 people were left homeless and at least two others died in widespread fires in the Western Cape in late January. As temperatures look set to remain high throughout March, the importance of businesses adhering to fire safety regulations is once again in the spotlight. South African businesses are urged to comply with fire regulations or bear the risk of major financial outlay and liability due to damaged property and assets or human lives.
Manuel Chikwanda, senior risk engineer at Lion of Africa Insurance says the recent spate of fires in the province has raised some major concerns regarding the readiness of many businesses to deal with unexpected fire. He says as fire season approaches – especially in fire-prone areas such as the Western and Eastern Cape, businesses and home owners need to take the necessary steps to ensure that all fire safety assessments are conducted and that standards are met.
“The cost of non-compliance far exceeds the cost of compliance when you consider the loss of profits, operational delays and reputational damage that occurs when a business is incapacitated due to an extreme event such as fire. Businesses must not fool themselves that they are saving money by ignoring fire-safety requirements,” says Chikwanda.
Assess safety procedures
According to Chikwanda, home owners and businesses should regularly assess their fire safety procedures. This means ensuring that there are approved fire protections in place and provision of safe passage for all people in an emergency. He recommends that a number of bodies, such as the Automatic Sprinkler Inspection Bureau, Fire Detection Installers Association, and Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa can be approached for professional assessment of fire safety.
“Insurance companies and brokers also have in-house risk engineering teams that also assist with assessing fire safety adequacy at shopping centres, large retailers, and other premises” he says.
According to Chikwanda, some aspects of fire safety require daily attention. He believes it is these issues that are often neglected by companies because they do not form a part of the organisation’s key tasks.
“Checking that exit doors and escape routes are free of obstacles and work smoothly as well as testing public address systems should become a part of a business’s daily routines. However, a full fire safety assessment should be scheduled at least once every year as part of a robust risk management program,” he says.
Duty of care
Chikwanda says that in many cases business owners are not aware of the insurance implications of not having sufficient fire protection in place. He explains that the contract of insurance places the duty of care upon the insured, which generally encompasses compliance with relevant statutory requirements for prevention of loss, as well as other best practice requirements that could be imposed by insurers.
Not having sufficient fire protection in place could therefore be construed as a breach of the insurance contract, Chikwanda says, and at worst could result in claims not being honoured. “Inadequate fire protection always results in the severity of loss being much higher than it would otherwise have been. This high loss ratio consequently results in an increased cost of insurance in subsequent periods,” says Chikwanda.