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Don't let risk rule

September 19, 2010
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Accidents and incidents are a facility manager’s biggest nightmare.

A single insurance claim can cost an organization thousands of dollars — and its reputation as a safe facility.

A good risk management program not only can help prevent accidents, it can also be an important tool in defending against litigation.

If facility managers can demonstrate that they have a thorough risk management program, their organizations will likely fare better in court than one with no such program.

It is important that facility managers invest in risk management tools upfront. These upfront costs are very minimal compared with the cost of insurance, lawsuits and lost reputation associated with an accident.

Some tools that are especially critical to building safety are alarms, detectors and voice messaging systems.

Slips and falls
The use of safety signage alone does not help prevent accidents as, too often, signs are ignored or unnoticed.

One reason for this is because cleaning and maintenance personnel often do not remove “wet floor” signs after floors have dried, for instance.

Employees and patrons become complacent when approaching areas with wet floor signs because, more often than not, they are no longer wet.

Improper use of signage or the use of ineffective signs could be the deciding factor of liability in a slip-and-fall lawsuit.

By using a voice message — predetermined by the facility manager and recorded on a voice messaging unit — the product will politely and clearly warn people that floors are wet or slippery.

The systems currently available detect the presence of occupants and employees and then provide a voice message in one or more languages.

The detection elements may vary from passive infrared to magnetic door switches to proximity devices.

Whatever the detection method, the subsequent call to action is clear and unequivocal and sure to get the attention of anyone entering the area.

Once the area is no longer unsafe, facility personnel have the option to deactivate the system remotely or manually.

Smoke and fire
Voice messaging systems available today can be battery-operated and portable, or can be a fixed installation, depending on the type or nature of the risk.

In the case of smoke and flame detection, a fixed installation is likely the best option.

Nationwide, public buildings of all types are increasingly implementing smoke-free policies not only to protect occupants from potentially deadly secondhand smoke, but to help prevent fires as well.

However, patrons and employees still try to light up in restrooms, immediately inside entrances and loading docks, and anywhere else they think they might be able to “sneak a smoke.”

Another common location for “sneak smoking” is in high school and middle school restrooms.

Fire alarm systems are widely installed throughout public buildings, but are not sensitive enough to detect the presence of tobacco smoke.

Tobacco smoke detection systems are an ideal tactic for catching smokers. The systems available today are totally independent of the fire alarm system and can operate internally and externally.

Again, the system will politely ask smokers to refrain from smoking as the area is designated smoke-free.

In addition, staff, students and visitors are left in no doubt that they have been caught and warned — without the need for facility staff to be involved in any confrontation with members of the public.

Some systems can include alarms that alert the smoker that he or she has been caught and also notify key facility staff or administrators of smokers.

Once they have been caught, smokers generally will not attempt to smoke in undesignated areas again.

Clear communication
There are many uses for voice messaging systems that can help facility managers keep buildings safe for occupants and staff.

Whatever the message, when used properly, occupants, staff and visitors will be sure to take notice of clear, audible warnings.

To be most effective, messages and warnings should be changed frequently. Proper warning is a crucial component to a risk management program. In order to keep the facilities and occupants safe, people need to be warned and reminded of facility conditions and rules.

Finally, managers should keep a record of when and where warnings are in place.

That record, which documents the use of safety notices, will support the organization in the case of an accident or incident.

Brent Dunleavey is co-founder and managing director of Radal Technology Ltd. He can be reached at
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