Fire safety in garment factories has been at the forefront of many people's minds lately, especially in the minds of those connected to factories in Bangladesh. The recent tragedy at the Tazreen Fashion factory served as a stark reminder of why this topic is so important. Fire safety was also a key focus of this year's AAFA International Product Safety & Environmental Compliance Conference in Bangladesh, held in Dhaka on December 5, 2012, where WRAP's President & CEO, Avedis Seferian, led a panel on the topic. Drawing on WRAP's significant experience with fire safety training, Seferian gave attendees an overview of fire safety, taking the audience through a discussion that began with the mechanics and causes of a fire and concluded with best practices to minimize fire risk. "The best way to deal with fire is to not let it happen in the first place. A proper risk assessment is the key to prevention and training is the key to fire safety," said Seferian.
The session began with Seferian explaining that fire is a chemical process requiring a combination of three factors; heat (ignition), fuel, and oxygen, and that a typical garment factory has plentiful supplies of all three. "Heat can be produced from sparks from wiring or electrical equipment as well as hot surfaces such as irons. Fabric and packing material, which are plentiful in all garment factories, are sources of fuel, and oxygen, of course, is present in the ambient air," said Seferian. The discussion continued with a look at how quickly a fire can spread, and how the biggest threat in indoor fires is the large amounts of smoke that can be generated in the process. "While a fire itself certainly poses a threat to the safety of anyone who comes in contact with it, the fact remains that it is smoke inhalation that is the leading cause of fatalities associated with fires," said Seferian.
The discussion then examined steps to take during a fire as well as how to prevent them from happening in the first place. Key to the prevention talk was the internationally-practiced "5 Step Risk Assessment" process. "A fire risk assessment should focus on ensuring that fire safety procedures, fire prevention measures, and fire precautions are in place and properly working," said Seferian. This will include identification of fire hazards and people at risk, as well as methods to evaluate and remove those risks. The process also places significant emphasis on training.
The session also included an examination of what to do when a fire breaks out. "In order to properly understand the things to do in the event of a fire, it is important to understand some basic aspects of human behavior," said Seferian. Some of the emotions that people experience during a fire were looked at, as well as how to build an evacuation plan with these emotions in mind. "We are all creatures of habit and routine. Regular practice drills are essential because repetition is necessary to ensure the right reaction," said Seferian.
"In the end, what you want to achieve in a factory is to ensure that fires are unlikely to occur. But that if they do occur, then they are likely to be controlled or contained quickly, effectively and safely. And failing that, if a fire does occur and grow, then at the very least everyone in the premises should be able to escape to a place of safety easily and quickly. Ultimately, the most important things are the steps taken to make sure a fire does not happen in the first place," said Seferian.