In early January of this year, emergency services were called to Thomas Foods International’s abattoir, on the northern outskirts of Murray Bridge, South Australia, after reports of a significant fire at the plant. The blaze was started by a worker who was welding an offal bin. Sparks from the welding activity went into a combustible wall panel and spread quickly through other parts of the premises.
Following an extensive battle, firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze several days after it commenced. The total cost of the damage is likely to exceed $100 million, however the exact figure won’t be known for many months.
Whilst the severity of this incident was driven largely by the presence of insulated sandwich panels (which are highly combustible), this incident serves to remind all policyholders of a number of important risk management procedures (irrespective of industry or building material type), including:
- Formal Procedures including:
- Hot work permit for all activity involving the generation of heat such as welding, grinding or cutting.
- Cold work permits for any maintenance or other activity near or adjacent to combustible building materials, such as EPS / ISP panels, aluminium cladding etc.
- Fire Systems Impairment for any maintenance or other interruption to automatic fire detection or suppression systems
- Formal Contractor Management system covering:
- Formal induction procedure for all contractors that work on site
- Existing permits and procedures to apply to all contractors
- Evidence of Contractor’s insurance policies
- Self-inspection regimes conducted on a regular (weekly) basis covering:
- Any combustible building materials, such as insulated sandwich panels, to ensure their integrity (i.e. their core is not exposed)
- Aisles maintained free of stock providing access for egress and fire-fighting activities;
- Any automatic fire separation systems, such as fire-rated automatic doors, are not impeded;
- Combustible waste – kept to a minimum and removed regularly;
- Extinguishers and hose reels in correct position, serviced and accessible
- Battery charging equipment maintained 3m from all combustible materials including EPS panel walls;
- Smoking regulations strictly adhered to and no evidence of any breach of these regulations observed;
- All electrical equipment clear of combustible matter and no visual damage evident; and
- Good, clean housekeeping standards maintained at all times.
- Employee training ensuring all staff are trained in:
- WHS responsibilities;
- Emergency evacuation procedures;
- Hazard Awareness including both building materials (such as insulated sandwich panels) and activities (such as welding); and
- The use of fire extinguishers and fire hose reels.
Other important considerations include:
- Property valuations
- Given replacement / reinstatement conditions under most forms of property insurance, up to date insurance valuations are critical to ensure that there is no penalty for any under-declaration of insurable values.
- Disaster recovery & business continuity planning
- Whilst major losses are generally uncommon, having a formal disaster recovery and business continuity plan in place will assist your business in the event of a major catastrophe.
- Business income analysis and accurate insurance coverage
- Similar to property valuations, analysing your income streams and stress-testing against hypothetical loss scenarios will ensure that your insurance protection is robust enough to withstand a significant loss
- Major fires and other property related losses have impacts outside of the physical damage they cause, so ensuring your WHS policies and procedures comply with current standards is critical for all responsible officers.
Contact Austbrokers ABS today on +61 2 8567 3110 or your Account Manager who is able to assist with all of the above.