How best to ensure regulatory compliance for fire risk in warehouses
Fire protection in a warehouse environment not only has to comply with the National Building Regulations Act, but also with various SANS codes, according to ASP Fire CEO Michael van Niekerk.
These are mainly SANS 10400-T: Application of the National Building Regulations Act, Fire Protection; SANS 10287: Automatic Sprinkler Installations for Firefighting Purposes; SANS 10139: Fire Detection and Alarm Systems for Buildings (System Design, Installation and Servicing).
Then there are also SANS 10228: The Identification and Classification of Dangerous Goods for Transport; and SANS10263-0: Warehousing of Dangerous Goods. Local municipal emergency service or fire brigade by-laws are also applicable, van Niekerk points out.
Fire protection in a warehouse environment must consider the fact that fire and smoke often spread vertically, due to the high stack heights involved. Large warehouses must have a suitable automatic fire-detection system installed.
This is critical in order to alert occupants of a fire as quickly as possible, especially given the large size of such warehouses, so they have sufficient time to evacuate the premises. “It will allow on-site first respondents to tackle a fire before it grows out of control,” van Niekerk adds.
Fire-hose reels and fire extinguishers are essential elements of a first-respondent capability to suppress a fire successfully before it grows too large to be controlled. An appropriate fire-suppression system such as automatic sprinklers will control a fire, provided that the product stored in the protected area does not exceed the fire load that the sprinkler system was designed to control.
Large industrial warehouse estates are at risk when they do not own the goods stored in their buildings. Clients do not always declare the fire risks associated with hazardous goods, as they are either unaware of the hazard, or are trying to avoid paying a premium for the handling and storage of hazardous goods.
“The net result is that the actual fire load or fire hazard of the goods stored in the building far exceeds the designed fire load of the building in terms of its construction, and the fire detection, fire suppression, and life-safety systems,” van Niekerk illustrates.
“It is also difficult to manage access in and out of a very large warehouse site. Buildings that cover many thousands of square metres are not necessarily staffed to a level that allows for a fire to be detected and suppressed rapidly,” he adds.
Retrofitting warehouses to be compliant with all the necessary regulations is not only costly, but in some instances either unfeasible or impractical. This can be avoided by simply sub-dividing warehouses into various fire compartments aimed at limiting the spread of a fire. These compartments, in turn, are separated from each other by fire-resistant floors and walls to stop any fire from spreading and engulfing an entire warehouse.
The main benefit of this so-called ‘fire compartmentalisation’ is that it prevents a fire from spreading out of control, which could result in workers being trapped. It also reduces the possibility of such a fire from spreading, and resulting in even greater damage, and even fatalities. The degree of sub-division necessitated by fire compartmentation depends on the use of the building (such as a warehouse), its height, and whether a sprinkler system has been installed.
In addition to fire compartmentalisation, evacuation procedures and fire protection strategies are also an essential component for warehouse design. ASP Fire can conduct fire-risk assessments for warehouses in order to determine whether the actual fire load exceeds the installed fire-protection system design.
“We are able to advise a client accordingly and assist them with a suitable fire-protection strategy and system design to cater for the likely worst-case scenario that could be faced in the course of normal operations,” van Niekerk elaborates. ASP Fire offers turnkey fire protection projects, which means it can also supply, install, and maintain fire-protection equipment in warehouses.