Fire Protection

What Your Building Needs to Survive!

Bushfires are Common

Bushfires typically rage across Australia every year. Earlier in 2019, bushfires broke out in Australia at an unprecedented scale. So far, these fires have consumed 5 million hectares and the economic costs of this catastrophe are steep. For Sydney alone, the daily cost of bushfire-related problems has run up to A$50 million a day. Elsewhere, insurers have received claims of hundreds of millions of dollar, not to mention the downtime costs for businesses across Australia. Regardless, fires are still raging.

Bushfires are typically not hot enough to damage or destroy a building on their own, as many modern buildings are fairly resistant to fire. It is when embers or direct contact with bushfires further leads to structural fires where a home or factory’s structure catches fire that the most damage is seen. Fortunately, structural fires are preventable.

For business with warehouses, factories and other units in the areas affected by bushfires, it is important to take suitable measures. While the fire hazards and smoke problems caused by bushfires are a fact, it is possible for businesses to minimise their impact. By containing the impact of these problems on a factory or a warehouse and its workers, businesses can mitigate any disruption to their business cycles.

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Bushfire Risks

What are the Typical Bushfire Risks?

For businesses as well as homeowners, bushfires pose two key risks – fire and smoke. Bushfire can be fuelled by leaves, trees, grass, woodpiles as well as other fuel sources such as LPG and petroleum. If the trees or underlying shrubs are too close to a building, the fire can easily reach and damage the structure. Similarly, bushfires may be encouraged by different fuel sources mentioned above. This is why it is vitally important for you, as a business owner, landowner or homeowner, to take your own precautions in minimising the risk of fire spread.

Smoke is the second key concern associated with bushfires. Smoke can exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma. It can also cause coughing, chest rightness, difficulty in breathing as well as irritation in the eyes, lungs, throat and nose. Prolonged exposure to smoke can lead to the aforementioned symptoms. This can, in turn, make it impossible for the employees at a factory or warehouse to continue their routine tasks until the smoke is removed from the work environment. So even if your factory, warehouse or home is safe from direct fire risk, exposure to smoke may create a major disruption.

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Bushfire Risks

Why Fire Protection is Important!

Fire-protecting a building is important for businesses. As mentioned above, exposure to the fire and smoke hazards associated with bushfires can create various risks for a factory or a warehouse. In the face of this, it is vital for businesses to invest some time and resources into properly fire-protecting the buildings located in bushfire-affected areas. Following are some of the key reasons why fire protection is vital:

  • Safety: Fire hazards endanger precious human lives. Timely measures can help your business mitigate any fire-related risks to the workers at a given facility. The lack of such measures may directly put them in harm’s way, for which you can be held responsible as a business owner.
  • Health: Exposure to smoke and other fallout elements of bushfires can create health problems for the workers at a factory or warehouse. A good safeguard against these elements can ensure that workers continue to work in a clean and safe environment.
  • Economic Costs: Every year, Australian businesses lose hundreds of millions of dollars to bushfires. These fires pose a very real risk to your factory, warehouse or any other business facility you manage. The building may catch fire and burn down; smoke haze may disrupt daily tasks and bring business activity to a standstill; and afflicted workers may be forced to go on leave which can disrupt the routine lifecycle of your business. All of these will ultimately cost your business in terms of money, time and reputation. This is why a timely and sound fire protection strategy is not only the right thing to do, it is also a genuinely reasonable investment to protect you and your business from potential damage.

What You Can Do

Steps to Protect from Fire and Smoke

Bushfires are a very real hazard as is clear from the unprecedented scale of damage wrecked by such fires in Australia from October, 2019 onwards. This is why it is important to take all possible steps to safeguard a building, whether it is your home, a warehouse or a factory which you own or manage. The right measures at the right time can significantly improve your odds of mitigating fire-related damage and preventing related problems like smoke from disrupting your activities.

Following are some steps you should implement to fire-protect your building:

  • 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice

Trees, shrubs and other undergrowth serve as the most readily available fuel for bushfires. It is important to manage the trees and any other vegetation on your property to minimise bushfire-related risks. In general, the Australian authorities recommend that all buildings should follow the 10/50 vegetation clearing code of practice.

As per this practice, there should be no trees within 10 meters of a building. Any vegetation within 50 meters of a building must also be removed. This distance may be more for larger industrial and commercial units such as warehouses. The ultimate aim is to make sure that if any vegetation or trees near the building catch fire, the building is safe from direct contact with the fire.

  • Structural Repairs

A building usually requires routine repairs to make sure it is suitably protected. Gaps in the walls, for instance, may become the entry point for embers. Similarly, any broken or missing pieces in the roof can directly allow bushfire embers and smoke to enter the building. To adequately protect a building from bushfires, it is essential to make sure that there are no structural problems with the roofs and walls. A metal roofing at a warehouse typically offers good protection against bushfires.

However, if there are gaps in the roof, such as portions that have been cut away for some new installation, the roof is no longer able to protect the building from fire hazards. You can identify any structural gaps and problems on your own or hire a professional contractor to identify and resolve them. This is particularly important for industrial and commercial units like factories where the building’s interior may house several flammable fuels and shielding these materials from any contact with fire is absolutely critical.

  • Sealing The Building

As mentioned above, any gaps in the building’s structure can become entry points. Even seemingly small entry points can allow embers from a bushfire outside the building to come in contact with flammable objects inside, quickly causing a fire in the building. In addition to structural repairs, you should also make sure that all the entry points of the building are suitably sealed. These include the doors, windows and any other openings in the external structure of the building.

You will need professional help to properly seal these components at a large industrial unit like a warehouse. Sealing the building is also particularly useful in making sure any smoke from outside the building does not penetrate to the interior of the building. Weather seals are typically effective in sealing doors and windows at homes, and a similar solution can prove equally effective at larger buildings.

  • Ember guards for whirlybirds

Whirlybirds are a great way of ventilating the indoor air at a warehouse, factory, home or any other building. These ventilation units are available as wind-powered models as well as electric powered models. While whirlybirds are an excellent, effective and affordable way of ventilating the interior of a building, they also serve as an opening. Ember guards from bushfires near the building can enter through the whirlybird vents. This is why it is important to use ember guards on any whirlybirds you are using at a commercial, industrial or residential facility. Ember guards are typically constructed from metal mesh. The ideal aperture size of this mesh should be less than 2mm to block the entry of embers from the outside. You can usually have an ember guard purchased and installed along with the whirlybird vent. The guard mesh sits inside the vent and also helps prevent other forms of debris from entering the building.

  • Ember guards for eave vents

Eave vents are another excellent way of ensuring indoor ventilation of a building. These vents are installed under the eaves and help circulate fresh outdoor air to the roof space. Some eave vents come with a mesh design so that they are capable of blocking the entry of ember guards by default. Others have a larger opening so that you will need to have ember guards separately installed. Like whirlybird vents, eave vents can also become an entry point of ember guards. Even a few embers inside a factory or a warehouse can torch inflammable materials and create fire. This is why you should make sure that all eave vents installed at a building are properly secured with ember guards.

  • Removal of Fire Hazards

Bushfire hazards are any materials or conditions that will encourage a fire, cause it to spread, and potentially increase its intensity. Such hazards are very commonly found on properties, especially so at commercial and industrial units where different types of chemicals, raw materials and fuel sources are commonly stored. The first step towards protecting a building from bushfires is to identify these hazards.

Common examples of bushfire hazards include woodpiles, petrol, dry leaves, natural gas, LPG, garden mulch and grass. Raw materials at a factory or stocked inventory at a warehouse may also include other materials that can serve as serious hazards. Textile products, for instance, can be a very potent fuel source and as such must be shielded from contact with fire.

Once you have the fire hazards identified, it is time to secure them. For industrial or commercial scenarios, you must have comprehensive strategies in place to make sure these materials are processed, stored and used in a secure way. For instance, any petroleum or gas supplies on the premises of a building must be safeguarded not only from internal accidents but also possible bushfire scenarios. If it is not possible to house a flammable material indoors, you can stock it outdoors so that it is suitably removed from the nearby vegetation. In any case, outdoor stock of such materials must be so that it is not close to the building itself.

When it comes to fire hazards, the presence of such hazards on a neighbour’s property may also pose a risk to your own property. If you feel that a neighbour has such hazards that can create fire risks, you should immediately talk to them. If that does not solve the problem, contact the local Fire Service which will inspect the hazard and take care of it.

  • Water Supply

In the event of a bushfire outbreak in your area, it is essential to have a ready water supply on premises. Most industrial and commercial buildings have access to such supply. You should also train the relevant workers at a factory or a warehouse on how best to access and utilise this supply when mitigating a fire outbreak. Another important consideration is to label a water dam or pool on your property with a sign of ‘Static Water Supply.’ This is immensely helpful if somehow the fire reaches the building. Firefighters are then able to locate, access, and use a water supply without wasting any time.

  • Have a Plan

Smoke-and-fire protecting a building goes a long way towards saving it from bushfire-related risks and hazards. However, there’s still the possibility that a building may catch fire despite the best of your precautions. This is where you will need a plan. A backup plan should include the standard measures and steps that must be taken in the event of a fire. These may include evacuation, isolation of certain materials, organised movement towards a designated exit, and so on. Such a plan is critically important for factories and warehouses employing a large number of people. You need to have not just a plan but also practice it on a frequent basis to make sure everyone knows what to do in case a fire breaks out in the building.

  • Get insurance for the risks

When taking measures against the hazards and risks from bushfires, it is also important to be prepared for the worst. In especially serious bushfires such as Australia has seen in recent weeks, even the best measures can sometimes prove ineffective. This is when being insured can make a huge difference. Being insured is a general best-practice for all factories, warehouses and other commercial units. When a building is backed by insurance, you will be able to recover the bulk of your damages in the event of fire-related damage. This means that not only can you launch a recovery and rehabilitation phase soon after the danger is over, you can also minimise the disruption to your business.

  • Use Air Purifiers

Smoke from bushfires is one of the most annoying problems. Even in the areas where direct bushfire-related damage is avoided, smoke from the fires can affect the quality of air. While the problem is particularly pronounced outdoors, it can also affect the indoor environments when suitable measures have not been taken. If a building such as a factory or a warehouse is not properly insulated against smoke, it can affect the indoor air so much as to hamper employees from performing daily activities. This can cause a disruption to the business and bring down productivity.

An easy solution to this is the use of industry-grade air purifiers. These are available in a wide range of types. Some are able to filter out larger particles from the air while others are more useful in removing even the finer particles. Air purifiers make sense not only for industrial and commercial buildings but also for homes located in areas prone to smoke and haze from bushfires. You will need to identify the degree of filtration you want and the volume of air that needs to be purified on a routine basis before deciding which model or type to purchase. If you are not sure, it is best to consult a relevant contractor before making a decision.

  • Consider Indoor Plants

Plants are able to purify the air in general. However, there are specific varieties of indoor plants which are particularly known for serving as nature’s air purifiers. As a business, you can invest in having these plants stationed across the indoor areas. Not only can they help mitigate the fallout smoke and haze from bushfires and keep the indoor air clean and healthy, they can also have a positive impact on the mood of the employees, leading to improved productivity.

Plants that are typically known to purify indoor air include Aloe Vera, Spider Plants, English Ivy, Snake Plant, Boston Fern, Devil’s Ivy and Peace Lilies.


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The Cost is Worth it

Fire and Smoke Protection Costs

If you are considering protecting a building from bushfires as well as related problems such a smoke and haze, you will need to make upgrades. Protecting a smaller structure such as a home is relatively easy and costs little. When you are talking about fire-and-smoke protecting a larger structure such as a warehouse or a factory, the costs are significantly higher.

However, the actual cost of upgrading to a smoke and fire proof environment varies from one building to the next. Here are some key factors to consider in this regard:

Size of the Building: The size of the building you want to protect is one of the most important considerations. Securing a larger building from fire and smoke naturally involves more resources, and incurs more costs, compared to a smaller building. However, it is possible to make smart choices when securing larger buildings and save in terms of the overall expense. You should ideally consult a reputable contractor to provide a detailed strategy on this.

Local Landscape: The local terrain and landscape surrounding the building also plays a role in the type of protection strategy that is most suitable. Consequently, it has an impact on the overall costs of securing the building. If the area neighbouring a large industrial unit has a lot of trees and vegetation, for instance, removal costs can be high.

Building Insulation: How well a building is insulated also determines the resources you need to spend in securing it from fire ember and smoke. If a building is already weather-insulated as many commercial and industrial buildings are, you will need to spend less in securing the building. On the other hand, if a building is not properly insulated at the doors, windows, walls, ceilings and other openings, considerable effort may be required to make it fire and smoke proof.

Structural Integrity: As discussed above, gaps in the walls, cracks in the roof and other openings through the structure of a building are potential hazards. In the event of a bushfire, they offer an entry point for the embers as well as smoke. Older buildings typically lack sufficient structural integrity and cost more to secure in contrast to many modern buildings which are constructed to be insulated against weather elements. It is possible to explore different ways of plugging the structural problems in a building. You may be able to resolve these problems with creative and inexpensive repairs to keep the overall costs low.

Smoke Risk: One of the key areas where you may need to spend a considerable amount is keeping indoor air at a building safe and healthy. This is particularly hard for larger buildings during bushfire outbreaks. Air purifiers, cited above, can serve as a very useful option to keep the air clear but they may cost a tidy sum. So if you are in the way of bushfire smoke and haze, you may need to spend more to make sure the business or daily routine is not disrupted due to deteriorating indoor air.

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