How to ensure a safe and hazard-free festive season
We are in the midst of the Durga Puja festivities, to be followed by Dusshera and Diwali. Unfortunately, this happy time of the year also brings with it the serious risk of fires if safety protocols are not heeded to at the time of constructing pandals (marquees).
Despite requirements that are explicitly listed, pandals, irrespective of where they are installed, continue to be a cause of concern, where sights like these are common:
* Live electricity wires running close to the pandals;
* Use of combustible material (fabrics that are not fire retardants) in building the pandals;
* Lack of clear opening and exit points for evacuation of people;
* Installing pandals below power cables; and
* Lack of firefighting equipment.
Here are some recommendations that can ensure safety:
* Making National Building Code guidelines for temporary structures mandatory: Though guidelines have been laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards through the Code for mitigating fire and smoke damage in temporary structures, only two states — Gujarat and Maharashtra — have implemented them through the Fire Act. Several other states have provided cross-references to the NBC guidelines in their Fire Code, but these are not legally enforceable.
* Fire safety drills: There is need for mandatory fire safety drills for all organisers and people involved in setting up events that involve temporary structures and familiarising everyone on how to act in case of an accident. This is perhaps the most forbidding challenge, as orderly evacuation is nearly impossible in large gatherings where panic spreads quickly.
An analysis of the disasters in the past shows that deaths in mass public events or religious get-togethers are mainly due to fire on account of electrical short-circuits, asphyxiation caused by smoke and stampedes. Temporary pandals carry an inherent danger of rapid spread of fire, fanned by wind conditions, making it difficult for vulnerable population like women, children and the disabled to escape safety.
* Training the organisers: Organisers, in partnership with the fire fighting department, can organise regular training on fire awareness, risk identification and assessment, decision-making, fire protection systems and the like.
* Compulsory firefighting equipment: All temporary structures built for events and gatherings should be well-equipped with firefighting equipment, besides adhering to rules such as use of fire-retardant paints and fabric for pandals, ample water supply, clearly marked entry and exit points, and ample space for fire tenders.
* Enforcement: While applying for a No Objection Certificate from the local municipal corporation, organisers can get the first round of approval from reliable and approved third-party certification agencies to ensure all safety measures are in place.
(V. Jagdish is Head Regulatory – Codes & Advisory Services – Building and Life Safety Technologies, UL. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons