Research from the University of Canterbury indicates that using a fire extinguisher in the event of a minor fire can potentially reduce the need for a visit from the fire service, and the business from expensive recovery costs. Yet many New Zealand businesses are putting their staff and property at risk by choosing to remove fire extinguishers and hand operating firefighting equipment (HOFFE) from their premises.

While the decision to remove fire extinguishers from a business’ premises may not be unlawful, it can put lives and operations at unnecessary risk. The reason some businesses choose to remove the equipment stems from an interpretation of the law and a motivation to cut costs.

“Recent changes to the workplace health and safety legislation have just passed through parliament.  These changes now place a due diligence duty on any person conducting a business or undertaking, including company directors or partners, who are now personally responsible for the health and safety of staff and contractors.  When it comes to protecting people and property from fire, businesses can no longer afford to cut corners,” Dave Hipkins, national technical services manager at Wormald said.

It is also false for anyone to assume that sprinkler systems are designed to extinguish a fire, they are designed to limit the spread of fire. This means that if a fire occurs in a shielded area, such as under a desk shelf, the sprinkler system may not drench the area without the assistance of a fire extinguisher, hose reel or other appropriate firefighting equipment.

With the legislation changes now in place, businesses are expected to be more proactive and engaged in identifying workplace hazards and managing risk, making a comprehensive fire protection strategy vital.  Having adequate and correct hand operated firefighting equipment installed provides an important first line of defense for staff which can help to reduce the impact of fire, help minimise business recovery costs, and ultimately save lives.

The New Zealand Fire Service Commission has undertaken a research project as part of the annual contestable research round to better understand the effectiveness of HOFFE. Part of the project is a survey with the aim of better understanding the use and benefits of HOFFE.  The Fire Service is working with the fire protection industry to encourage businesses that have recently experienced a fire to participate in the survey.