What We Can Learn From the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire

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Last month, one of the biggest headlines to grace the news was the shocking fire that blazed through the Notre Dame in Paris.

The roof of the iconic cathedral set ablaze in the late hours of Monday, 15th of April and firefighters battled with the flames for approximately 8 hours, during which time the spire and roof collapsed destroying the 850-year-old structure.

In the two weeks since the devastating fire, investigations have been taking place to identify the cause of this tragedy which is still being treated as an accident.

All we know so far is that renovations were taking place at the cathedral and there was scaffolding in place and workers coming in and out of the building.

There were talks of scaffolders smoking on site even though it was not permitted; however, a cigarette butt has been ruled out as the cause of the fire.

One of the most prominent theories as to the source of this fire is an electrical short circuit.

Investigators are looking further into this by searching through the fire damaged cathedral for cables, lights or parts of circuitry which may provide further evidence to support this claim.

Although we are yet to have a solid answer as to what caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, and it may take weeks for it to be uncovered, there are many lessons to be learned from this tragic event in the meantime.

Fortunately, no lives were lost but it has cost France a lot of money and one of their most iconic and beloved heritage buildings.

How can other businesses and organisations use this as a teachable moment when it comes to fire safety in the workplace?

Is Your Fire Risk Assessment up to Date?

One concern raised following the fire at Notre Dame was why the fire spread so rapidly and whether it could have been prevented completely.
It is no secret that the building was in a state of disrepair and that, in France, there are strict fire codes that must be adhered to which aim to reduce the risk of fires. Whereas, in the UK, it is a legal requirement for a fire risk assessment to be conducted.

When was the last time that you conducted a fire risk assessment in your workplace?
If the answer is more than 12 months ago, then you should definitely consider getting one completed as soon as possible.
In the space of a year, businesses can change drastically, and legislation gets updated so many of your assessments may be out of date and new hazards may have arisen.
For example, in the case of the Notre Dame Cathedral the renovation work and scaffolding present was a new hazard which would have required a fire risk assessment.

Don’t leave your business exposed to any preventable risk that could cause or assist a fire in destroying your company and endangering the lives of you and your workers; ensure that fire risk assessments are conducted at least on an annual basis and by a fully qualified Health and Safety consultant.

Are Your Employees Aware of your Fire Safety Procedure?

Another query that officials had following the fire, was whether correct procedures were followed by staff at the cathedral.
An alarm went off at about 6:20pm on the day of the fire and staff reportedly conducted checks but did not find anything. A second alarm sounded just 20 minutes later which led to this huge and destructive blaze.

If checks were not completed correctly, or staff were unaware of the proper procedure, and were unable to detect the initial flames then this has been a major contributor to the devastation caused as they could have potentially put the fire out or controlled the fire before it worsened and caused such monumental damage.

Every business must use the findings from their fire risk assessment to create a fire safety procedure/policy and communicate it with their employees.
This would include your fire evacuation procedure, identifying your fire marshals and their duties in case of a fire and any training required to use fire extinguishers.

In addition to this, you need to ensure that your employees are fully aware of the procedure in practice which is why it is encouraged that employers conduct a fire drill a couple of times a year.
Not only will this enable you to make sure that your procedure for evacuating is safe and efficient, but it will ensure that all employees are aware of the procedure and it’s a great way to check that your alarm system works.

Are Your Employees Trained in Fire Safety?

Everyone has a role and responsibility when it comes to fire safety because one wrong move can cause an accident. Your employees must be aware of the potential risks in the workplace and how their actions could cause irreversible damage.

Although it is being strongly denied as the origin of the fire, cigarette butts were found on the scaffolding erected at Notre Dame and workers have admitted to police that they did, on occasion, smoke on site even though it was strictly prohibited.

Smoking is just one of many human causes of workplace fires which is why a clear smoking policy is important and disciplinary action must be taken against those who do not follow it.
Even employees who smoke in the permitted areas and follow your policy need to be educated on the dangers that could still arise should they a) incorrectly dispose of cigarette butts and b) do not keep the smoking area tidy.

Company-wide fire safety training can be a great place to start in combating issue.

If you require further information on writing a fire safety policy or need support with conducting a fire risk assessment, then our Health and Safety Consultants are on hand to help. Call us today on 0845 2626 260 to book a free consultation.

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