x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A culture of safety will help fight fires

Regulations, inspections and education are key to helping reduce the number of industrial fires and their devastating impact.

Millions of dirhams worth of cars and spare parts were lost when fire raged through three warehouses in Sharjah on Monday. It was the third large fire in the emirate within two weeks. On July 31, one man died and eight workers were injured when two warehouses were gutted in Sharjah's Industrial Area 13. The next day, a blaze destroyed a garments factory in the Sharjah Free Zone.

While investigations into these unrelated incidents are continuing, they should serve as reminders of the great threat to human life and property posed by fire - and of the measures we can all take to minimise the likelihood of fires and limit the damage they can cause.

There is no doubt that the costs of fire are high. Fighting the most recent conflagration took many hours of effort and the resources of civil defence crews from Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman and Dubai. Even so, it spread from its source at one used-car and spare-parts warehouse to destroy two similar premises and then a furniture factory.

Employees at one site told The National that more than 400 vehicles were lost and it could take months to sort through the wreckage. A staff member at another warehouse questioned whether the owner, who had already rebuilt after an earlier fire, would restart his business.

Fires are not uncommon in the UAE, but in recent years their incidence has declined. A Civil Defence report last year showed that the number of fires had dropped by one-third from 2010 to 2011. Deaths in building fires fell from 174 to 33. This coincided with an education campaign that involved officers visiting homes to spread the word about fire safety.

But there is more to be done. In June this year, Abu Dhabi Municipality urged residents to be alert to common household fire hazards, including cigarettes, candles and gas containers, and to make sure electrical equipment is well maintained. It's a message that's equally applicable to the workplace.

Governments can play their part by enforcing and, if necessary, tightening safety regulations to ensure new buildings are fully compliant and older ones are brought up to standard. Perhaps more important, though, is the need for education to engender a culture of safety awareness. Every employee should know how to minimise the risk of fire and what to do if one breaks out. One more death will be one too many.