Reducing your fire risk

  • Lynette Schultheis, Operations Senior Vice President, Regional Manager - Australian Operations

In a country best known for its sunshine, the collective sigh of relief was nearly audible as the eastern seaboard received some much-anticipated rainfall. The welcome wet skies helped to stifle bushfires while allowing firefighters to make gains across much of the recent fire ravished bushland.

While the fires may have eased, the impact to Australia’s business community is significant. The economic damage from the bushfires devastating Australia’s eastern seaboard alone is likely to exceed the record $4.4bn set by 2009’s Black Saturday blazes, Moody’s Analytics has said.

This includes both direct and indirect impacts on local and national businesses. Tourism bodies, for example, have said it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the industry.

Since the summer is not yet over, the bushfire threat unfortunately continues which means that everyone must remain vigilant and take steps to ensure that they mitigate the risk such natural disasters pose to their safety.

We encourage businesses to keep in mind the following steps in order to reduce risk to their facilities:

Things to consider

Having a documented emergency plan in place in advance of your business coming under any immediate threat is essential. Your pre-fire plan should consider personnel safety, access and egress routes, including alternatives in case primary routes are blocked by fire. Preparation of your facility to reduce fire risks is also key.

Once a plan is developed, make sure you are clear on when different stages of the plan will be activated. It’s also important to have practiced your plan before you face a real threat.

Don’t forget that your facility could be exposed not just to flame and heat, but also ember attack.

Preparing your facility

There are ways to significantly reduce the likelihood that your business will catch fire, or if it does, to help minimise the damage suffered.

Your plan should address the following preparation activities as applicable, ensuring that these steps have been taken well before you are faced with a fire.

  • Remove accumulated vegetation and debris from around the building perimeter and roof gutters
  • Prune or remove lower branches, overhanging branches, shrubs and surface fuels beneath trees. Mow any grass around your facility
  • Remove combustible yard storage, or safely relocate is as far from important buildings and utilities as possible
  • Relocate valuable stock and supplies.
  • Back up computer servers
  • Ensure that equipment is placed in safe mode for expected loss of utilities. Shut down any HVAC systems
  • Close the building envelope, including doors and windows. Seal gaps using bronze or steel two milimetre aperture mesh
  • Place temporary covers on air intakes and vents
  • Safely store or relocate ignitable liquids, especially those in plastic drums
  • Ensure that fire protection systems are in service

FM Global provides further details regarding recommended construction and protection features for your facility, such as fire-rated window shutters and automatic sprinklers in Property Loss Prevention Data Sheet 9-19, Wildland Fire available here.

Safety is paramount

Pay close attention to directions and guidance coming from the government to keep your property safe.

Government agencies are most intimate with the situational changes and updates to what’s happening on-the-ground. Monitor local and national disaster response agencies for directions, guidance and warnings. Sign up for mobile alerts from Australian governmental sources and determine the best social media accounts to monitor hourly/daily. Visit Emergency Alert to find out more.

While many of us may feel a sense of helplessness at the site of this year’s bushfire crisis, there are things within our control that can help reduce the threat they pose to increase our business resilience.