Health & Safety

Winter: The Burning Issue

Juliet Kekana 2.jpg

Last week we discussed the effect of Cold stress on the workforce and how employees can be protected. As we continue to look at risks associated with the winter season, let’s have a look at workplace fires and the impact they have on our businesses. How do we deal with workplace fires? As employees attempt to protect themselves from one of the elements. It is reported that “The City says 511 people have been killed in fire-related incidents between January 2015 and June this year. Of these, 53% of the victims were adult males and 46% of the deaths happened during weekends. Most deaths (58%) happened between midnight and 6am.”

As we remember the story that happened back in the year 2000  when“ The owner and the manager of the ESS Chemicals factory in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, where 11 workers burned to death on Friday after they were allegedly locked into the factory during their night shift, have been arrested and are being held for questioning, Soweto police said on Monday afternoon.” In this scenario, the employer was more worried about security measures to prevent theft after hours but omitted to recognize a new risk that was presented by locking up procedures. 


As we continue to hear about the looming cold fronts, workplace fires continue to be a threat that we need to take seriously. The devastation and scars that remain with us long after fire incidents have happened cannot be ignored. Workplace fires could affect our workplaces in different ways as indicated below:

  • Property damage
  • Fatalities
  • Project delays
  • Clean up costs 


The impact of training and awareness shouldn’t be underestimated. Employers should invest in creating and awareness and training their staff in basic causes and prevention of fires. This will minimise fire risks and reduce fire-related liabilities. Even basic training goes a long way.  Training should include the use of fire-fighting equipment by employees. Most employers invest in very good Fire suppression systems and have them installed in and around the workplace and neglect to train staff in the correct use of such equipment. Staff should be trained on the following: 

  • Fire safety training (do you know how to use a fire extinguisher?)
  • Understand fire procedures
  • Fire drills
  • Testing of fire alarms
  • Where to run in the event of fire and other emergencies


Fires are caused by various sources and we have highlighted a few:

  • Faulty electrical appliances
  • Rubbish and waste material – smoking
  • Cooking
  • Heating appliances – portable
  • Combustible materials – flammable liquids, glues and solvents
  • Arson (wilful fire-raising)
  • Poor housekeeping
  • Poorly maintained equipment
  • Incorrect storage of combustible material

 As part of risk management, employers need to list the risk of fires as one of hazards for their workplaces. This will enable them to embark on the identification of fire controls and prevention measures to protect their employees and members of the public. Emergency response procedures should also be implemented and tested periodically so that gaps could be identified and improved upon. Let’s remain vigilant and ensure compliance and protection of fires in our workplaces. 

Written by Juliet Kekana – Managing Director – De-novo HSE Training and Consulting

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