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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

On-site extinguishers: the case for retention

On-site extinguishers: the case for retention
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New Zealand

Workplace fire extinguishers significantly reduce the cost and potential for personal harm associated with a fire, yet increasing numbers of businesses and building owners are electing not to have the equipment on site for financial reasons.

It’s a trend that worries the NZ Fire Service, but it is hoping it might be reversed in the face of new research which shows compelling financial benefits from the use of extinguishers in non-residential building fires.

Since the introduction of the Building Code in 2012 most workplaces and other non-residential buildings have not been required to provide hand-operated fire-fighting equipment (HOFFE) such as extinguishers, fire blankets and hose reels. As a result it is not being installed in around one quarter of new buildings, and has been removed from some existing premises to avoid the costs of maintenance and staff training, and because of concern about the risks of fire-fighting.

The Fire Service says information from the property industry suggests that under current conditions availability will fall by up to 15% in the short to medium term, resulting in increased fire damage costs of between $2m and $5.4m a year.

To counteract this decline some reliable information about the real value of on-site extinguishers was needed, the service’s national advisor fire risk management, Todd O’Donoghue, told Safeguard.

As a result the Fire Service Commission engaged Greg Marr of Civic Futures to prepare a detailed cost-benefit analysis of HOFFE provision, based on data from the Fire Service and from businesses that refill used extinguishers.

“There is good data available about the fires we attend, but we identified that people might be using extinguishers to put out fires in their early stages and not ringing us,” O’Donoghue says. “As a result the research team did a lot of work with those who service fire extinguishers, collecting data about how they were being used, so we could better identify the value of the equipment and its role in reducing fire damage.”

After canvassing a good proportion of the extinguisher service industry and combining this information with Fire Service figures, the research team produced a cost-benefit analysis that puts the annual level of damage reduction associated with HOFFE use in non-residential buildings (most of which are workplaces) at $48.2 million – more than double the $23.4 million a year needed to provide and service equipment and train staff.

For factories and industrial buildings the net benefit is even more significant, with the estimated annual saving of $24.1 million almost four times the $6.1 million cost of providing appropriate HOFFE.

The report stresses the importance of early intervention if fires are to be successfully contained, quoting previous New Zealand studies which found fires were extinguished without the involvement of professional fire fighters in 83 to 94% of cases where HOFFE was used. These studies also indicated that fewer than 20% of non-residential fires resulted in emergency call outs. The report notes, however, that not all of these incidents had the potential to cause property damage, so it considered only 50% of the cases when determining the savings attributable to on-site equipment use.

But the benefits of HOFFE use are not limited to small scale fires, it says. The Fire Service database also shows significant reductions in flame damage to non-residential premises when extinguishers are used before the fire crew arrives. Figures from 2011 to 2014 show that in 75% of fire call-outs where extinguishers were initially used, damage was limited to 5 square metres or less, compared to 50 square metres or less for the same percentage of incidents where HOFFE was not used.

The report suggests that regulation may be needed to make HOFFE provision compulsory, but O’Donoghue says that, in the short term at least, education is likely to be the Fire Service’s preferred option.

“We’ve established a working group to look at all the recommendations in the report and decide the next steps, but it is very likely that our first approach will be education to convince people that they should voluntarily install extinguishers.

“Advocating for legislative change is not always successful, and can be very time consuming, so our preference is to get the evidence out to industry groups now so they can see the value of extinguishers.”



People Mentioned:
Greg Marr; Todd O'Donoghue
Organisations Mentioned:
NZ Fire Service
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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