Safety orientation reduces fire hazards in a property

Very few people would disagree with the benefits of safety education. Many cities have already seen how fire figures and fatalities have been reduced after the implementation of such programs. Recently a major fire was witnessed in a Chennai marriage hall killing 52 persons. Only a few weeks back two major fires were witnessed in Burra Bazar. These have become a regular feature. Previous years have also seen a major fire at Satyanarayan Park of Burra Bazar in Kolkata and every year before that there were incidences of fire in this area. The main reasons for all these fires have been short circuit of the electric wires through some responsible people claimed time and again that the said fires were the work of some promoters having vested interests. Today, the state of the wiring in Burra Bazar buildings or the electric decoration in marriage parties is a shame in a city like ours and are major fire hazards. The indifferent attitude of the residents of these buildings or organizers of marriages shows that our safety awareness concerning fires in this city or country is very low or negligible. A personality trait is now identified globally, which could be called safety orientation and which is seen to influence several aspects of our daily behavior. A clear definition of this personality trait and the way it controls our general behavior could lead to a type of behavioral engineering which could reduce accidents and make the world a better place to live. If we place a glass tumbler on the edge of a table and then allow visitors into our room, it will be observed that while some people may not notice that the tumbler is in danger of falling, a few at the other end of the spectrum may move it to a safer place on the table. Persons with a higher degree of safety orientation would have a greater tendency to notice danger to themselves as well as others, even when the cause of danger may not directly impinge upon their senses. Safety orientation is not the negation of risk-taking. It is a positive trait that can, and should, be cultivated both by individual and collective effort. If studies are conducted with bigger groups, it would be found that safety orientation, just like the Need for Achievement is not merely an individual trait, but the cultural traits of a society. I have lived in Germany and have seen that the safety awareness of that country is very high. No one would even dare to cross a road even in the middle of the night when the traffic signal is red. This goes both for pedestrian and car drivers. The precaution they take for drying their pavements or removing snow or putting anti-skid tiles on the pavement is something we can take lessons from. In our city, the level of safety awareness is really low and it needs to be increased by creating an environment, which could enhance such awareness. Something must revolt within the individual who stores inflammable materials or hazardous chemicals in residential areas, or who digs a hole in the street and leaves it open for someone to fall into. The person with higher safety orientation takes precautions not because of fear of punishment, but because something within impels him or her to take precautions. Their minds are tuned to the dangerous implications of a negligent act. Deviation from the norm of precaution evokes not the logical response of You may be punished for this, but the emotional response of you must not do this or better still. You must do something to prevent this. What is the point in having fancy fire-fighting equipment installed in a multi-storeyed building without anyone present who knows how to operate them or to have additional water reservoir for fire fighting where there is no or little water around the year? Most of the housing complexes / multi-storeyed buildings do not even conduct the mandatory fire drill which is prescribed by the fire department to be done every six months. On the other hand, most of the Burra Bazar buildings do not have even the basic fire extinguishers installed leave alone the hydrant system and foam extinguishers, which are essential to fight fire creation by the electric short circuit. They are also not provided with fireproof doors that are required to prevent a fire from spreading. Most of these buildings have open kitchens around the stairs and rooms with wood or charcoal or kerosene burners, which could also initiate a major fire due to the mishandling of this equipment or accidents. Most of the modern buildings today have very sophisticated fire-fighting equipment such as fire hydrants or sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire alarm, etc. but what is the point if the security guard is not aware what to do in the middle of the night if smoke is coming out of a particular section of a building or if the telephone numbers of the fire department (Brigade) are not displayed at the vantage point, or if he does not know which extinguishers to be used in case of electric short-circuiting or if the electric supply to the building is to be switched off, etc. Regular fire drill at an interval of six months should be made compulsory for each multi-storeyed or high-risk old building to be conducted by the fire department or a qualified professional. It is therefore suggested here that safety orientation should be cultivated systematically, not only among children during their early stages of schooling but also in adults by way of workshops, seminars, articles like this and through TV programs. Cultivation and promotion of safety orientation would no doubt need a multi-pronged strategy. Educational institutions, voluntary organizations, the media, business establishments, and all well-meaning citizens must become a part of this effort to make society a safer place. All of us have a stake in this effort because most often those who become the victims of the tragedy are in no way responsible for the negligence. Sri Pratim Chatterjee, Minister of State-in-charge Department of Fire Services in the State of West Bengal had convened a meeting on 27th January 2004 at Writers Buildings inviting the views of concerned persons and to finalize the guidelines in respect of fire prevention and fire safety arrangements in high risk and high rise structures and establishments. The members and office bearers of CREDAI Bengal were invited to attend this meeting and give their views, which was a welcomed move from the West Bengal State Fire Department. CREDAI Bengal had offered to prepare a booklet in three languages (English, Hindi, and Bengali) titled How to ensure fire safety in your housing complex and fire safety posters in collaboration with the West Bengal Fire Department to create awareness about prevention of fire hazard in housing complexes and high-risk old buildings amongst their residents.

By P. K. Chopra, Published in The Insurance Times, March 2004

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