‘National Fire Safety Code not Robust, Leaves Lots of Room for Mediocrity’

Fire and Emergency Exit Signs

As efforts are being pulled together to save the environment and economy from huge loss arising from fire disaster, Omolabake Fasogbon examines the National Fire Safety Code and the need for its strict enforcement

In 2013, when the Federal government approved the National Fire Safety Code, which was believed to be long overdue, many heaved a sigh of relief, believing that the nation can now take a rest from incessant fire outbreak.

The National Fire Safety Code contains what should be done by property owners before, during and after construction of property in order to quickly arrest the spread of fire during outbreaks.

The Code also spells out, amongst others, what should be considered when planning commercial, residential or any other type of building, so that fire outbreaks can quickly be brought under control if they happen.

The expectation is for the code to be enforced in all public buildings as contained in the Federal Government’s circular Ref no SGF6/S.18/VII/907,2112.

Five years after the implementation of the code, not much expected changes have taken place; rather, the situation has gone from fry pan to fire, judging from available statistics.

In 2017 alone, the Lagos State Fire Service said it recorded not less than 1,273 fire calls. Similarly, a total number of 660 fire outbreaks were recorded in Kano State in 2017 according to Kano state Fire Service with about 123 lives lost.

In 2018,there have been several reported cases of fire incidents across the country, with the most prominent being the Otedola bridge tanker fire in Lagos, which has been described as one of the greatest tragedies in Nigeria.

According to Fire Disaster Prevention and Safety Awareness Association of Nigeria, incessant fire outbreaks in the country has cost the national economy about N6 trillion between 2012 and 2017, while on annual basis, Nigeria is said to be losing about N50 billion and one million lives to fire disasters.

Expert blame this occurrence on so many factors including increments in population and urbanisation with no commensurate improvement and expansion in public infrastructure, poor safety culture, as well as wide gap in skills, knowledge, security risk management and mitigation.

In particular, experts say while the fire safety code does exist, not many are familiar with the provision of the code and so cannot act on it and as a result, the country continued to wallow in huge human and material avoidable loss.

They noted that government at various levels have not effectively operated the fire safety code while enforcement officials mostly spring to action only when disaster erupted.

The Technical Director of Safety Consultants and Solution Providers Limited, SCSP, Anthonia Beri did not only see reason for a review of the code but also sought for enhancing knowledge of it.

She said, “The code is far from being robust yet, it leaves lots of room for mediocrity and interpretation. It has, to a large extent, become a tool for harassment in the hands of aspiring practitioner.

“How can the fire service carry out sales and servicing of equipment they audit and certify, I mean how can institutions like the Lagos state department nominate and certify consultants and the appoint them from jobs they audit. In fact, all these are really frustrating to the citizens. I dare the government to carry out a survey on this.”

Upon checking this code, there is greater need to educate the populace on its contents to maintain the very highest standards of fire safety management, she emphasised.

Beri stated that SCSP is contributing its quota in raising awareness and enhancing capacity development on safety codes and safety solutions by organising a capacity development programme.

She said the issue became a priority for the company, considering Nigeria’s strategic position in the Economic Community of West Africa State, ECOWAS region.

“Operational Risk Management is key to strategic and sustainable growth for any company, country or institution. With the African Unions’ 2063 Agenda, Nigeria is called upon as champions of industries and nations to ensure capacity development in this core area for sustainability cross border trade and integration as Africa seeks to operate on one platform.

“This is a daunting task requiring extensive capacity development in managing risk towards the continents growth. There is no sustainable growth without operational risk management. Our economy is as strong as we manage the components in our risk basket. Operational risk is a major risks that falls under the control of the operator.”

She said the company will deliver the task in collaboration with its technical global partners, Leader Group and Johnson Controls to ensure that Nigeria is also abreast of development outside its boundaries.

While calling on all stakeholders to take advantage of the free to attend programme scheduled for 23rd and 28th of November, 2018, she added that the initiative sought to drive compliance to codes and standards, use of modelling tools and also best engineering practice based on codes.

“We seek to drive sustainability through risk mitigation via best risk management practices based on compliance, codes and best practice. This is therefore the time to drive niche specific knowledge in life & fire Safety, environmental sustainability as well as security and cyber risk management. We comment the Ministry of Environment on the initiatives that it has taken so far especially those geared towards our ecosystem but we believe they can do better,” she noted.

In the same vein, another expert, Oserogho & Associates pointed out that the safety of lives and properties especially from avoidable fire accidents must occupy a higher place in risk management priorities of every business and nation.

“It is therefore very important for all business owners, operators and managers to ensure that they are constantly abreast with all fire safety laws, regulations, codes and industry, all of which have impact on investment.”