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Fire Safety In Shopping Centres

By MSF MSF in 

The statistics for shopping centre fires are interesting. Retail fires account for roughly 10% of all ‘large loss fires’. Of those, around 2% are in shopping centres. So, at first glance, the numbers are in your favour. However, when you dig deeper, the picture changes. Around 4/5 of these fires are deliberate; a far higher figure than the general trend for retail. Hence, it pays to invest in fire safety in shopping centres.

Be aware of your fire safety responsibility in shopping centres

It’s easy to get excited at the prospect of a new venture.  You have invested time, money and effort in ensuring that it looks perfect, the shop is clean and tidy, and the stock is perfectly arranged on the shelves.

Your staff are well presented and well trained.  You have enlisted the services of a local celebrity to carry out the grand opening to aid publicity.  All it needs now is for the public to come and start shopping.

But what about an inspection by the centre management?  Have you forgotten anything?  Did you know that the provision of fire protection lies with you as the proprietor? Or did you assume that the shopping centre would look after that side of things?  After all, they are the building owners, so it’s not unreasonable to expect this.

Shops will have to prove that they are compliant to the centre management and this may involve an inspection on all health and safety matters.  It depends on the individual centre as to the extent of this.

Are you legally compliant?

Shopping centres are responsible for general fire protection in communal areas of shopping centres. This includes service yards.

However, most will pass the responsibility for the shop area to the shop owners / occupiers. This includes the storerooms belonging to the shops. Normally, as soon as you enter the confines of the individual shops the responsibility passes from the shopping centre to the individual shop.  This will form part of your lease and you will be responsible for ensuring compliance.

So, what do you need to do to comply?

Carry out a Fire Risk Assessment

The law requires that a competent person carry out a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) on your behalf. This rule applies to all building owners and occupiers. What’s more, if you employ five or more people, you must hold a written record of the FRA on file. The FRA evaluates your premises and makes recommendations in the following areas:

  • What are the risks?
  • Who is at risk of harm?
  • How can you alleviate or, where possible, eradicate the risks altogether?
  • Would fire fighters be safe if they had to enter your premises?
  • What provisions can be made for business continuity in the event of an incident?

Maintain a current fire safety logbook

A logbook is used to keep records of your efforts to co-ordinate and maintain fire safety. Fire safety in shopping centres is essentially no different to any other form of premises. Everything you do should be accurately recorded. Anyone who carries out regulatory testing (be it you or a contractor) should record the results in the log book.

The logbook is a useful tool for you and will enable you to demonstrate your commitment to fire safety legislation.

Install and maintain fire extinguishers

It’s against regulations to fail to provide portable fire extinguishers. There are many different types so it pays to get independent, accredited advice when choosing the right equipment for your retail outlet. They will need to meet regulatory and business risk requirements.

Once installed, you’ll need to service them regularly, which MS Fire Sytems does. All fire extinguishers should be serviced annually to ensure they meet current Zambian standards.

Fire alarm maintenance

Modern shopping centres will have a central system that operates throughout the common areas of the centre.  However, you will probably have your own fire alarm system that operates within the confines of your retail space.

It is your responsibility to arrange the service and testing of your system and keep records in your log book.  You must comply with the servicing requirements laid down by the shopping centre management policy. Most shopping centre management will have detailed the requirements for maintenance of equipment, particularly where the shop system is attached to a central system, such as a fire alarm or sprinkler system.

You must also liaise with the centre management regarding testing times and requirements. This helps to avoid creating any issues with the operation of the centre.

Emergency lighting maintenance

Emergency lighting can be a life-saver if power supplies to your lighting circuits are cut during a fire. They help protect you and emergency service personnel.

As with fire alarms, you’ll need to maintain your own equipment and keep records. You’ll also need to comply with the centre’s servicing requirements.

Fire sprinkler maintenance

If you do have sprinklers fitted in your outlet, be aware that the same rules apply as for fire alarms.

Fire safety signage

In the event of an incident, the provision of the correct fire signage will aid escape. It will also assist with the use of fire protection equipment.  This will save vital minutes in safely evacuating the shop.

Remember, you may be familiar with your layout, but members of the public in your shop won’t be.  They should be able to be led to their nearest escape route by accurate and well positioned signage.  Wherever you are within the shop, you should be able to see a fire exit sign.

PAT & fixed wiring testing

You will need to ensure that all your electrical systems are checked and comply with current regulations.  The fixed wiring may have already been checked by the centre management, but you need to liaise with them to ensure it has.

Fire training

Last, but not least, training! You should train yourself and your staff on the evacuation procedure in place within your shop. You’re also expected to have knowledge of the policy for the centre as a whole.

Furthermore, do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? It’s possible that you might need to use one to help people escape. Make sure you know which extinguisher to use and how to use it.

Fire protection is essential to the safety of your shop, your employees and your customers. So, it’s imperative that you comply with the law and the requirements of your insurance company. This is not only for your own protection but also for the continuity of the business.

For practical advice and assistance on any of these points, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to talk you through the finer points of fire safety in shopping centres.

Electrical Safety Importance

By MSF MSF in 

When looking at how to avoid an electrical fire, there’s many important factors to consider. This article takes a look at some of the best precautionary measures and also what to do in the event of an electrical fire. All countries and local authorities may recommend different.

If you’re having any electrical installation within your home or workplace you should always have it checked by a registered electrician. This should be carried out if you’re to move homes, or every ten years that you live or work within the property. This will be different for privately rented properties as it is highly advised that for every five years or every change of tenant, electrical tests are carried out to ensure safety is still the highest priority.

If you have recently or are currently having a new fusebox fitted, an RCD (Residual Current Device) will be the safest product to have installed. This will automatically cut off the electricity within the building if a fault is detected. Installing this device can save lives if there was ever a fault with the system. It will prevent anyone receiving an electrical shock or could prevent an electrical fire.

The biggest preventions of electrical fires are to not overload products like extensions leads or your standard socket. Plugging in to many appliances with a very high electrical current such as kitchen appliances to an extension lead can potentially over heat and spark a fire.

To prevent an electrical fire from spreading you should NEVER store any combustible materials near any main electrical appliances. We would strongly advise to take more precaution if your fusebox is under the stairs as if an electrical fire was to break out, it would spread quickly due to where it is situated in the house. This could potentially block off the stairs preventing anyone above from escaping.

Before using any electrical appliances that may have a plug connected via a flex, it is essential that you do a quick check of the cable and just make sure that the plug head is securely together. We understand that sometimes this will seem unnecessary however, it is so important to anyone’s safety and could prevent a fire. Checking a socket is as important as checking the plug and flex. If you see any burn marks or damage to the socket, we would highly advice for you to get a registered electrician to test the product. We are not saying to check your sockets every time you use them but regular checks are essential for your safety.

One of the biggest causes of an electrical fire is appliances that get very hot. Appliances such as: hair dryers, electrical heaters and hair straighteners. These appliances require a high electrical current to produce heat. This is why it is so important they’re used safely, and the correct current is given to the product. In past experience we have seen cable completely burnt and essentially melting due to the current being used by the heater. The heater needed more current than the cable could withstand resulting in melting the cable. This could have caused an electrical fire if it hadn’t of been noticed. When using hair straighteners and hair dryers once finished with, you SHOULD always make sure to place on a heat resistance mat or surface and to unplug them.

What we do if a fire breaks out.

In the event of a fire you’d think that the first thing anyone would do is to run and to get as far away from the fire as possible. Forget your belongings, forget your bags and just save yourself. HOWEVER, this isn’t the case. Us humans like to grab our belongings, make sure we have our coat and then remove ourselves from the fire. This is one of the biggest causes of fatalities as we just don’t react fast enough or understand how dangerous a fire is. Click here to watch a short video on how fast a fire can spread.

Its night time and you’re sleeping comfortably. You hear the smoke alarm sound. What do you do? You rush downstairs to be greeted by half your kitchen up in flames and smoke rushing towards you. You would assume many people would simply remove themselves from the property and call for help. This isn’t always the case. A high percentage will take themselves back upstairs to grab belongings such as a laptop or jewellery. If you had watched the video linked, you would have seen 45 seconds in, the whole room was filled with smoke. Three breaths are enough to end a life. By the time you have gone upstairs and back down your exit would have been blocked and toxic smoke will be entering your lungs.

To prevent a fire is essential to your safety. However, removing yourself from a fire is crucial. Making that decision to ignore your belongings but escape is essential. reacting fast will save your life.

Fire Protection For Steel Structures

By MSF MSF in 

Our office building is a steel structure, and because steel doesn’t burn I shouldn’t have to worry about fire protection, right?

That’s a common misconception. Damage can definitely be done to steel structures and the extent of damage depends on the size and temperature of the fire.

It is always best to prepare with a fire protection system for a steel structure that matches the overall structural design and purpose of the building.

Many structures, such as parking garages, may only require active sprinkler systems. Other steel structures that do not fit these specifications may require more extensive passive systems installed for optimum safety.

Boards and Blanket Systems

Where steel beams are fairly accessible with well-defined 90° angles, adding boards to cover the beams is the best solution.

Board content should be made from calcium silicate, gypsum plaster or mineral fiberboard with resin or gypsum for optimum fire protection. Where beams are exposed in tight spaces or non-symmetrical angles, Blankets containing the same materials can be used to fill in.

Intumescent Coatings 

These are thin chemical coatings that are typically sprayed directly onto steel beams and provide excellent fire protection. They appear as a paint covering after application and can be chosen because of their aesthetic appeal.

These coatings will aggressively expand up to as high as 50 times their original thickness of coating, providing additional protection as fires intensify.

Conventional Coatings (SFRMs)

This type of fire coating is sprayed onto steel structures where needed, to protect against quick-flashing fires and rapid temperature increases. Usually available in either cementitious or spray fiber coatings, these coatings are generally chosen if the steel is not exposed.

Exterior Intumescent Coatings

Coatings such as these are typically used in outdoor steel structure applications, where fire suppression is still a concern. They are also used in confined spaces such as lifts, where not so thick a coating is desired.

The prerequisites for fire safety that affect steel structures are dictated by three factors: the structure’s location, its intended use, and its occupancy.

Regarding location, the International Building Code’s fire protection requirements are based on a steel structure’s proximity to other property lines or buildings. The more distance between a structure and any other adjacent buildings, the lower the risk of fire spreading.

By the same token, requirements for fire-resistance ratings also decrease when a steel structure is farther away from any adjacent buildings. The strictest requirements are reserved for wood structures that are in close proximity to other buildings.

Do You Need A Fire Extinguisher Refill Or Relacement?

By MSF MSF in 

If you’ve recently used your fire extinguishers to put out a fire, you have two choices: to refill (recharge) or replace your equipment. So which option is the right one?

At MS Fire Systems we can provide expert guidance to help keep your building safe and prepared for any circumstances through our the country.

Should You Refill or Replace Your Fire Extinguisher?

The fire extinguishers you get from MS Fire Systems are designed to last a long time especially when you have us come out and inspect them once a year. What this means is that as long as the fire extinguisher shell stays in good shape (i.e. not cracked or dented), you will be able to recharge your fire extinguisher as many times as you need to.

That said, fire extinguisher replacement isn’t a bad idea either—especially for smaller fire extinguishers. If you’re not sure whether you should have fire extinguisher repair or fire extinguisher replacement, just call MS Fire Systems! We can inspect the used fire extinguishers and recommend fire extinguisher repair or fire extinguisher replacement.

Remember that you should call us any time you use any amount of extinguishant—even just a tiny bit. Releasing just a little bit of extinguishant could result in your fire extinguisher being unable to protect you the next time around.

Note: the above only applies to fire extinguishers that have been used. If you haven’t touched your fire extinguisher in a while and it’s slowly losing its charge, call MS Fire Systems to inspect it—you may have a leak or a small crack in the shell which would automatically require full-on fire extinguisher replacement.

When Does an Extinguisher Need to Be Replaced?

red fire extinguishers in a row

Obviously, you want to have your fire extinguisher recharged or replaced every time you use it. But when else should you replace your fire extinguishers?

A fire extinguisher should be replaced any time its charge has been compromised. This means fire extinguisher replacement if:

  • The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped or clogged
  • The pin on the handle is broken or missing
  • The handle is wobbly
  • The inspection tag is missing
  • The shell is cracked or damaged

If you have fire extinguishers in your building that have been used recently and have lost some of their charge, call us! We can come take a look at your fire extinguisher and help you decide whether you need fire extinguisher recharge or fire extinguisher replacement. And if your fire extinguisher is damaged or malfunctioning in any way, we can replace it straight away!

Contact us online or by phone at +260 21 1244581 for a refill or a replacement

How Gas Leak Detectors Work

By MSF MSF in 

Gas Leak detectors, often called sniffers, are a class of instruments specially designed to find small leaks in enclosed gas systems.

The use of pressurized gases in pipelines and vessels is very common in industrial or commercial settings. Pipes carry LPG or natural gas to furnaces; any number of refrigerant gases to cooling systems; and caustic or toxic gases to and from the production floor as an ingredient or byproduct of an industrial process.

Long, complex piping runs with an assortment of valves, adapters and fittings provide a multitude of places leaks can develop. When those leaks do develop, they can lead to decreased performance or the failure of equipment and the release of dangerous gases.

The need for leak detectors is well established. Refrigerant leaks are the number one cause of poor HVAC cooling performance. Leaks in natural gas or LPG lines can create immediate fire/explosion hazards for workers and facilities. Many gases used in commercial or industrial processes have been identified as harmful to the environment and are therefore highly regulated and leaks can result in heavy fines. Having and knowing how to effectively use a leak detector is an important role for plant technicians.

Using a Gas Leak Detector

There was a time before gas leak detectors came into the market that finding a leak involved a lot of detective work. If the leak was large enough a technician could perhaps hear it, provided background noise didn’t drown out the sound. Sometimes pressure gauges would identify a leak and shut-offs could be used to isolate the area of the leak. Sometimes technicians, armed with spray bottles filled with soap and water, had to work their way down a pipe looking for bubbles to announce the location of the leak.

While all these methods are still used today, none of them provide the reliable means to identify and locate gas leaks in a closed pipeline.

Though leak detectors are closely related to personal gas detectors, they are designed to do different things. Personal gas detectors identify the presence of a gas in the environment while leak detectors are used to check for leaks and identify their source.

Aside from the sensor, gas leak detectors are generally equipped with features allowing them to easier pinpoint leaking pipelines. Flexible probes, for example, permit operators to closely trace pipeline routes checking for leaks along the way. These probes often extend several inches from the meter making it easier to extend into hard-to-reach areas.

Most gas leak detectors also include sensitivity adjustment. When gas leak detectors find evidence of an escaped gas and alarm is triggered. Many detectors do not include a display to show concentration readings. To find the location of the leak once the alarm has sounded involves lowering the sensitivity of the instrument and directing it until the alarm sounds again. This indicates increasingly high areas of concentration and point the direction towards the leak.

Having the right gas leak detector and checking its operation technique could mean the difference between finding a leak and missing it.

Leak Detector Technology

Since detecting gases leaking from closed systems is fundamentally different from identifying the presence of gases in the environment, leak detectors use different sensing technology than gas detectors.

Though there are some new technologies for detecting leaking gas, most leak detectors use one of the following sensing technologies:

Heated Diode

Heated diode gas leak detectors operate on the principle that a small electrical current is produced when halogenated gases—commonly used as refrigerants—come into contact with a heated ceramic diode. That current, in turn, triggers an alarm.

Heated diode sensors are very sensitive. They are capable of finding leaks as small as 0.1 ounce per year with the refrigerant R-134a. Also, because they only react with halogenated gases, are less prone to false alarms caused by the presence of other gases.

Heated diode sensors are susceptible to contamination via moisture and oils. They have a short service life, typically just 2-3 years though replacement sensors are inexpensive.

Solid State

Solid state sensors use a metal oxide (often tin oxide or aluminum oxide) formed into a bead-type sensor. A heating element is used to keep the sensor at an optimal temperature for the gas to be detected.

Since solid state sensors identify leaks by sensing changes in conductivity, a pair of biased electrodes are embedded into the sensor to measure the conductivity change. When the sensor comes in contact with gas escaping from a leak, that gas is adsorbed onto the sensor surface, changing the resistance of the sensor material. When the gas disappears, the sensor returns to its original condition.

What makes solid state sensors especially good for finding gas leaks is the strong signal they produce, which increases in the presence of high gas concentrations. This makes it easier to “point” the detector towards the area of highest concentration– the leak.

Solid state sensors are very versatile. They detect both low and high concentrations of gas and can be customized to detect many different gases by varying the sensor’s materials, construction and operating temperature.

The primary strength of solid state sensors is their long life expectancy. In clean conditions, the sensor can last up to 10 years, considerably longer than other sensor types. This is a big advantage for an instrument that is used only intermittently (unless you have a lot of gas leaks!).

Solid state sensors are, however, more susceptible to interference from background gases than other sensor types. In applications where background gases are present, solid state sensors can trigger false alarms. Sometimes, these background gases can be filtered out minimizing their adverse effect.


Ultrasonic leak detectors operate on a very different principle than other leak detectors. Whereas solid state and heated diode sensors look for traces of specific gases seeping from leaks, ultrasonic leak detectors identify the sound waves emitted when gas escapes through a leak.

When gas escapes a pressurized line, it generates a sound in the range of 25 kHz to 10 MHz, well above the frequencies the human ear is sensitive to but in a range easily identifiable to ultrasonic sensors. When the detector senses ultrasonic frequencies they are isolated from normal background noise, amplified, and converted to a frequency audible to humans.

Since ultrasonic gas detectors search for the sounds of leaks rather than escaping gases, they are able to detect leaks of any gas type. Though they are unable to measure gas concentration, the device is able to determine the leak rate of an escaping gas because the ultrasonic sound level depends on the gas pressure and size of the leak.

Ultrasonic gas detectors work in just about any environment but they are especially useful for remote sensing in outdoor environments where gases can quickly dissipate before reaching solid state or heated diode sensors which require contact with the gas escaping from a leak to identify the leak.

If you have any questions regarding gas leak detectors or would like purchase one please don’t hesitate to contact us.