Bangladesh isn't new to fire accidents. In the last several years, the country has seen some devastating fire accidents that claimed the lives of hundreds and destroyed millions in property. The recent fire in Dhaka's busy Bailey Road which claimed the lives of 46 individuals only resonates with the helplessness and despondency left behind by the tragedy. Every fire incident brings forth the question of fire safety audit or lack thereof. Because a tangible and thorough audit could've saved the 46 precious human lives and the many more we've lost thus far.

What is a Fire Safety Audit?

A fire safety audit is the systematic process of examining the compliance and preparedness of a building in the wake of a fire accident. The primary purpose of such audits is to identify potential hazards, evaluate the effectiveness of existing safety measures, and ensure that the building is equipped to handle emergencies, particularly fires.

These audits are typically conducted by qualified professionals, such as fire safety engineers or specialists, and may involve collaboration with local fire departments or regulatory authorities. In the case of Bangladesh, the primary regulatory body includes RAJUK (for Dhaka city), city corporations, and the Fire Service and Civil Defense department.

A fire safety audit considers the following points of action:

- Existing fire protection system

- Construction and design of the building

- Emergency evacuation channels

- Electrical and mechanical compliance

- Documentation

- Compliance with building codes

- Risk assessment

- Overall security measures

Why Fire Safety Audit is Essential for Commercial Buildings

Safety of the Occupants

The first and foremost reason for a fire and life safety audit is the safety of the occupants. A comprehensive audit helps to understand whether there is any structural flaw that might potentially be life-threatening for the occupants. It also helps to assess the preparedness of the occupants in case of an emergency and even educate them about the same.

Compliance with the Building Code

Fire safety audits can help to assess whether the building has been constructed in line with the proper building code. Compliance with the building code goes beyond the scope of just a legal requirement. It ensures that the building and its occupants have safety measures in place should there be any hazardous accidents.

One of the common building codes concerning fire safety is the construction of a fire exit and a second staircase. According to the city corporation, any building over five stories should have a second staircase. RAJUK puts the limit up to the tenth floor. The Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting Act of Bangladesh regulates that any building over six stories should have an emergency fire exit.

Protection of the Property

The cost of building a property is very high. Fire-related accidents end up creating irreparable damage to the building which often renders the property unusable. Fire and life safety audits can help to assess potential issues to mitigate these risks.

For example, a comprehensive assessment of the electrical system, and fire suppression system can go a long way to deter accidents and save the property as well.

Understanding New Safety Protocols

From the context of Bangladesh, most commercial buildings more or less bypass the safety regulations set in place by the regulatory bodies. While it's important to be compliant from the get-go, a fire safety audit can help to understand what changes should be made to an existing property to mitigate fire accidents.

For example, many commercial properties install expired fire extinguishers that don't work. Or the electrical cables aren't separated as per the regulations. A fire audit can help to identify these correctable issues and take proactive measures. It can also help to create new emergency response plans and address deficiencies in the existing design.

Critical Asset Protection

On 26th October 2023, a fire broke out in the capital's Khawaja Tower that disrupted the voice calls and the broadband internet service across the city. It later turned out that the building was housing several interconnection exchanges and the International Internet Gateway (IIG).

A fire accident not only endangers the life of the occupants but also endangers critical assets. Fire safety audits can help bring such properties under periodic monitoring.

Easing Insurance Claims

Most of the time, the property owners do not get any insurance claims over fire accidents on their property. The main reasons are the lack of compliance with the building and the absence of fire audit reports.

Insurance companies also charge a higher premium due to a lack of fire and life safety audits.

Fire Drill Evaluation

A fire drill is an important aspect of understanding readiness and preparedness in the face of a fire accident. A fire and life safety audit helps to conduct fire safety drills. Regular fire drills, especially in the case of commercial and critical properties help to increase the overall preparedness in times of crisis.

The audit also helps occupants and staff understand their roles and responsibilities in case of a fire or other emergencies.

Ensuring Peace of Mind

The growing number of fire accidents instills a sense of fear among the general people. Whether it's the office, restaurant, or even the home, there is a lingering fear of "what if". Having fire and life safety audits will help to increase public confidence and validation of the property. It can also inspire the surrounding properties to take up the audit, fostering a sense of security and ease of mind.

Final Words

Fire accidents are some of the worst and deadliest accidents in any urban area or city. It destroys everything in its wake and leaves irreparable loss for those who survive. While it's not possible to completely safeguard property against fire accidents, it is possible to greatly mitigate the risks through proper planning and undertaking safety measures.

Proper fire safety audits can play a crucial role in checking whether the fire safety systems of commercial buildings follow the building codes and fire codes. Such initiatives can build awareness among the authorities of the offices, shopping malls, and restaurants to take cautionary measures to avoid fire hazards. Because at the end of the day, there is nothing more precious than life and no one wants a repetition of Bailey Road or Nimtoli tragedy.

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