Do we need a fire warden? Here’s what every Australian business owner needs to know…
All employers are legally required to have a plan in place to respond appropriately in the event of fires and similar types of emergency.
There isn’t actually a rule in the legislation that stipulates that you must appoint a fire warden. So does this mean your business doesn’t need one? Think of it this way: no emergency plan worthy of the name can work without giving specific roles & responsibilities to designated people. This is especially true when it comes to evacuating your staff and making sure everyone is safely accounted for.
So here’s the situation in short: best practice (along with common sense) mean that virtually all Australian workplaces should have at least one fire warden in place. As well as needlessly putting your employees at risk, failure to appoint a warden makes it highly likely that your emergency plan would be deemed inadequate if put to the test, raising the possibility of court action and penalties, let alone huge complications with your insurance provider.
To stay on the right side of the law, your business, and everyone’s safety, here’s everything you need to know…
What does the law say about fire wardens in Australia?
A useful starting point is the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations, which are intended to provide the basis for nationally consistent work health and safety laws. The same harmonised rules are in place across NSW, Queensland, NT, ACT, SA and Tasmania. Note that Victoria has not joined the harmonised scheme and has instead maintained and updated its 2004 Occupational Health and Safety Act. You can read more about specific duties under this Act at WorkSafe Victoria.
Under section 43 of the WHS Regulations, an employer or ‘person conducting the business or undertaking’ (PCBU) must prepare and maintain an emergency plan (this applies to fires, explosions and harmful events relating to harmful gases and hazardous chemicals).
The requirements surrounding this plan make no specific mention of fire wardens. However, it does specify that you need to provide for the following:
- Evacuation procedures
- Notification of emergency services
- Medical treatment
- Effective communications
- Testing of emergency procedures
- Information, training and instruction to workers in relation to implementing the emergency procedures.
So in other words, you need a plan. You need people to implement that plan – and those people need to be trained. In practical terms, none of this can be effectively achieved without appointing fire wardens.
What is a fire warden – and what do they do?
Fire wardens are the staff members within a workplace who have been given certain responsibilities relating to your fire emergency procedures and wider fire prevention plan. Their role is both proactive (i.e. to help reduce the risk of fires occurring in the first place) and reactive (responding to emergency situations). Broken down, here’s what may be expected of them:
- Helping you to formulate your detailed fire risk and emergency plans
- Arranging drills
- Managing documentation – including inspection check reports, risk assessments and drill roll call records
- Routine testing of fire suppression and detection equipment
- General workplace equipment testing
- Hazard prevention: e.g. relating to the safe storage of flammable and hazardous substances
- Ensuring fire exits and routes are free from obstruction
- Raising alarms
- Alerting emergency services
- Deploying first response fire fighting equipment (e.g. extinguishers)
- Communicating with staff
- Assisting the evacuation of persons with special needs
- Carrying out sweep checks of the premises
- Closing doors and windows
- Isolating vulnerable areas/machinery (where safe to do so)
- Administering first aid
- Overseeing the roll call at the designated assembly point
- Communicating with emergency response services
- Informing staff when it is safe to re-enter the premises and ensuring that any isolated areas remain out of bounds
- Completing post-incident reports
Do you need a fire warden for insurance reasons?
Fire is of course one of the main risks that commercial property insurance is designed to protect against. Insurers will routinely stipulate that you must maintain an adequate and up-to-date fire risk assessment. The absence of fire wardens could well be seen as an obvious failure to mitigate your risk. It could affect or even invalidate your policy, potentially causing your insurer to refuse to pay out.
How big does my workplace need to be to have a fire warden? How many do I need?
Even if your workplace has a single employee, it is recommended that at least one of you undergo fire warden training.
Ideally, there should be enough wardens to cover all areas of a building, typically one for each floor. The complexity of your business layout and the existence of vulnerable areas can all have an impact on the number of wardens required. Additionally, you should also make provision for scheduled holidays. As a general rule, if a particular area takes longer than three minutes to sweep, it should have more than one warden allocated to it.
What training does a fire warden require in Australia?
There are no mandatory rules for training. However, The Australian Standard AS 3745 – 2010 Planning for emergencies in facilities is widely accepted as the benchmark both for implementing procedures and for training.
Day courses are available for training your wardens. Make sure the course you choose is Australian Standard AS 3745 – 2010 compliant. Ideally, on successful completion, your people should have accreditation according to the following nationally-recognised competencies:
PUAWER005B – Operate as part of an emergency control organisation
CPPFES2005A – Demonstrate first attack fire fighting equipment.
How often should you refresh training for a fire warden?
Under the relevant Australian Standard, fire warden training should be refreshed every two years.
Do I need to give my fire warden employee a bonus or raise?
It all depends on the context. As a rule, an employee can only be required to carry out tasks that fall within the duties specified in their contract of employment. So, thinking ahead, you may want to draft your contracts so the duties clause is sufficiently wide to cover an employee being possibly required to carry out fire warden duties.
If, though, fire warden duties go over and above what would normally be required of a particular employee, then some additional recompense would be appropriate. Also, it’s worth remembering that an effective fire warden is rarely an unwilling one!
How often do we need to do evacuation drills?
Evacuation drills are meant to ensure that your fire wardens are prepared in the event of an emergency. They should be carried out at least annually – and every six months if possible.
Are you reviewing your fire protection strategy?
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