November 10, 2023 by jngijamaica
Fires can have devastating consequences on businesses, causing extensive damage to buildings, inventory, furnishings, and equipment, as well as a prolonged interruption in business operations. Furthermore, depending on the extent of damage to the business, employees could face layoffs or job relocations, or the business could close, leaving them without a source of income.
Statistics provided by the Jamaica Fire Brigade show that 1,682 places of business were affected by fire from 2018 to 2022.
The impact of fire on a business and the resulting enormous setback is relatable to senior citizens, Maurice John and Sheila Allgrove, who, for the past 57 years, owned and operated the historic Whitfield Hall Great House used as hostel in the Blue Mountains in St Thomas.
Last July, fire gutted the hostel, along with an adjoining cottage and an outside kitchen. Loss was estimated at several million dollars. Thankfully, the building was insured.
Mr Allgrove pointed out that beyond the physical loss, the psychological impact has been great.
“The loss of Whitfield Hall and the memories that went along with it are profound. You can’t undo what has been done,” said Mr Allgrove adding that they have continued operating the business but at a reduced level.
“At my age, nearly 86, I certainly wasn’t expecting to have to do all of this. We are cutting and sawing all the lumber from the property for the rebuilding from last October.”
Joseph Holness, Assistant General Manager, Reinsurance and Underwriting, JN General Insurance, which insured Mr Allgrove’s property, underscores that the financial implications for a business affected by fire can be significant not only in terms of repairing or replacing property but also the costs associated with business interruption.
“When operations come to a halt, revenue is lost, and expenses continue to accrue. The result can be a severe strain on the financial health of the business, potentially leading to permanent closure or layoffs,” Mr Holness said.
“A business that took years to be established, can be reduced to rubble in minutes following a fire. Therefore, safeguarding your business from potential fire hazards is an absolute necessity to protect the future of your business.”
Mr Holness pointed out that the toll of a fire extends beyond physical damage.
“The risk to people is a major concern. Individuals within the building during a fire, unable to evacuate promptly, face an increased risk of sustaining severe injuries or losing their lives. This tragic circumstance can escalate into legal actions against the business, compounding the already significant financial burden resulting from the fire,” Mr Holness advised.
“It is, therefore, imperative for businesses to renew their insurance policies annually which provides the financial means required for liability claims and the repair or replacement of damaged assets following a fire. Often, you will hear that a business place that was burnt down was not insured. Insurance plays a pivotal role in the survival of a business,” Mr Holness said.
The Jamaica Fire Brigade outlines the following precautionary tips for businesses to reduce the risk of fire:
1. Install and Maintain Fire Detection Systems:
Invest in smoke detectors, fire alarms, and sprinkler systems. Ensure regular inspections and maintenance to keep them in working order. Replace batteries in smoke detectors regularly.
2. Develop a Fire Safety Plan:
Create a comprehensive fire safety plan that includes evacuation procedures and designated assembly points. Train employees on fire safety procedures and conduct regular fire drills in collaboration with the Jamaica Fire Brigade.
3. Ensure Proper Storage and Handling of Flammable Materials:
Store flammable materials in designated areas away from ignition sources. Follow proper storage guidelines and use appropriate containers for hazardous substances. Train employees in the safe handling and storage of flammable materials.
4. Maintain Electrical Systems:
Regularly inspect and maintain electrical systems, wiring, and outlets. Replace damaged or frayed cords and wires promptly. Avoid overloading electrical circuits.
5. Use Fire-Resistant Building Materials:
Use fire-resistant building materials when constructing or renovating your facility. Install fire-resistant doors and windows, especially in high-risk areas.
6. Control Heat Sources:
Keep heat-producing equipment such as stoves and ovens away from combustible materials. Ensure proper ventilation in areas with heat sources.
7. Install Fire Extinguishers:
Install appropriate fire extinguishers in accessible locations throughout the facility. Train employees on how to use fire extinguishers effectively.
8. Implement Smoking Policies:
Implement strict smoking policies, designating smoking areas away from the building. Provide proper receptacles for cigarette disposal.
9. Conduct Regular Maintenance:
Maintain heating and cooling systems, including chimneys and ventilation ducts. Clean and inspect equipment and machinery regularly to prevent overheating.
10. Ensure Compliance with Codes and Standards
Stay updated with the Jamaica National Building Code and industry-specific standards. Ensure your business complies with these codes and standards.