“Excuse me, excuse me! How many of you like barbecued food?” The Safety Officer stood on a small table and asked the question. Stop-watch in hand, a portable public address system slung from his shoulder. Most hands went up. “Yummyyyyy!” Someone said amidst giggles. “Good! Because you’d all be barbecued humans, if this was a real fire! Still find it yummyyyyy?” He mimicked. There was silence as his grim message sank in. Sure, the chap was being dramatic, but he was dead right (pun unintended)!
No matter how secure we think we are, unless pains are taken to secure the workplace, unforeseen dangers lurk in every corner. However, events like earthquakes, acts of God – because only ‘God knows’ how or why – or fires, acts of man happen, or nearly happen, all the time. Evacuating the premises is the smaller part of the problem. The bigger issue is the labyrinth that rescue agencies need to negotiate in order to get in and out. Choked roads, stupidly parked vehicles, curious crowds…
- Trying to open a ‘fire exit’, only to discover a mountain of packing materials blocking it? When the reluctant door eventually opened, the corridor was choked.
- Cars parked in front of fire hydrants – despite bold, bright red signs saying ‘For Fire Tenders Only’? People arguing with security guards when prevented from parking in red-box areas reserved for emergency vehicles. The excuse being – I’ll only be two minutes!
- Bent and battered ‘Meeting Area’ signs – sometimes pointing the wrong way – indicating the places where employees must gather during a calamity
Fire and calamity drills become welcome breaks. Come, let’s continue the meeting, cell phone conversation, lunch, while we gingerly walk out – it’s only a drill, yaar! For those organizations that dedicate staff or agencies to safety – well done – the investment is worth it! But your smaller cousins are challenged: Liaison offices, branch offices with fewer people.
Again, in larger office complexes, building managements, thankfully, take care of compliance. Some do need ‘urging’. And, tenants don’t cooperate! Such gaps exist, but these can be identified and avoided:
Source ‘safe’ real estate: CEOs stand at the lectern and preach about employee safety being paramount. However, workplace safety is delegated too far down the line. Therefore, emphasis on safety standards, above and beyond the vanilla mandate, must come from the top.
Use experts: Okay, they cost money. But their advice always pays for itself – or they wouldn’t be in business! Branded real estate companies understand safety standards and global best practices. They also have ‘insights’ about risky properties.
View compliance documents: Getting your own legal guys to demand and view every compliance document, particularly the fire and environment clearances. Unscrupulous property brokers sometimes wing this one. After all, their top data-points are price and location!
Read the texts: All states have Fire Safety Acts that lay down the rules. It’s a good idea to be familiar with them. Beyond this deterrent, there is enough material available that can be communicated to employees and attractive signage that can be displayed. Responsible commercial developers publish safety guides. DLF’s handbook My Safety Guide is both comprehensive and informative – their mascot Safeoo is quite cute too!
Push those partnerships: Partnering with other occupants always works. It creates a collective approach to mutual safety. A collective with a common cause is great for negotiating and pressurizing lethargic building owners and negligent vendors – particularly those who do electrical, air-conditioner, UPS maintenance work. There’s a threat of fires – wherever there are wires!
Complain: If fire safety equipment is not serviced regularly and completely, complain loudly. To the building maintenance office as well as to the others in the building. And to the authorities. Put it in writing! Companies avoid formal complaints – particularly to the authorities – for obvious reasons. (a) They’re another annoying moving part (b) they may revoke the building’s certifications – then where would everybody go! (c) No one will lease property to companies that create a ‘nuisance’.
Real estate is a large enough cost to automatically involve the C-suite. But their primary focus is on location, price, interiors, parking…safety comes later. A look around some of the commercial complexes in metro cities – it’s worse in smaller places – sends a shudder down the spine! Yet they’re fully occupied. If man ignores the signs God will dispose. People will get hurt, property destroyed. The rules are explicit. There’s enough information on prevention. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your people, your reputation and your neck on the line! So, why tempt Fate!