As a store of great value warehouses are a magnet for both the nefarious and pestiferous, which makes the lives of facilities managers challenging, but by far the greatest potential nightmare facing all warehouse managers is the fire hazard. This issue, however, like many other issues, can be prone to cost saving measures that put lives and premises at risk. Fire walls are a good example, says Brett Harrington, Divisional Manager for the Firewall and Data Division of ISD Solutions, when warning: “You get what you pay for – as we have learned firewalls can never be mere commodities for sacrifice on the altar of cost. The importance for fire safety from composite firewalls should therefore never be understated.”

The trend to use composite, steel-faced firewalls with non combustible mineral fibre cores for application in modern warehouse construction is increasing, owing to the multiple advantages they offer, and is fast replacing traditional block and stud products. These combine light weight, durability and portability, improved thermal properties and reduced build times. Construction costs are lower and maintenance is easier. Firewalls’ materials should be recognised by the fire authorities and insurance companies because by choosing such products that are third party accredited the designer or architects are able to mitigate those risks and show due diligence has been met.

Essential though good fire walls are, it would be better if a fire were prevented in the first place, or if started have fast fire suppression sprinklers. This brings us onto the need for good security systems against the nefarious because it is estimated that about half of all warehouse fires are maliciously caused. This highlights the need for robust security systems like CCTV within and outside the premises, backed up by alarms linked directly to local police stations for quick response by the fire-fighting services. If stored goods are of a volatile nature, like aerosol containers, mesh-covered racking might be advisable to contain rocketing fiery containers injuring fire fighters and rapidly spreading the fire.

The business of detecting fires early enough or the potential arsonists is more critical for some warehouses than others because they may lack sprinkler systems. Sprinklers are not cheap and it could well be that small businesses have to choose between the cost of installing a sprinkler system that could threaten its business sustainability or the possibility of fire putting the warehouse operation out of business. UK current guidelines on fire sprinklers only apply to warehouses over 20,000 mt2, though UK local Acts can make provisions for some local authorities to require buildings over 7,000 mt2 to install sprinkler systems in buildings which otherwise could be exposed to unnecessary fire risks. In some EU countries, however, the threshold that triggers an automatic requirement to install automatic fire sprinkler systems can range between 1,000 mt2 and 5,000 mt2. It is estimated that 73% of economic and environmental impacts of these fires are concentrated in sub 10,000 mt2 warehouses and the total loss to businesses of fires in warehouses without sprinklers is £230 million a year.

If the victim of a fire, the news may not be quite so galling in terms of trying to meet future production delivery times. Some disaster recovery schemes can be helped by temporary warehouse or production buildings. One recent product innovation here from Aganto is its latest addition to its portfolio of products – retractable tunnels, which can be put up in just a few days.

Some of the hygiene and safety issue within a facility manager’s purview can be eased or diminished if proper thought is given to the quality of the building’s design and construction. Floors, for example, can be a major hygiene and safety problem if they are not a steel-reinforced ‘jointless’ slab that needs many sawn-induced joints every six metres or so compared with 40 mt2 or 50 mt2 for a ‘jointless’ floor slab. A ‘jointless’ floor can improve safety and hygiene because wide, breaking up floor joints can harbour many pests which floor-cleaning machines may not be able to handle, a crucial issue in food and pharma premises. The right kind of warehouse door can also be an effective means of preventing ingress of rodents, birds and insects. Fast-acting PVC roller doors are often chosen for their pest control abilities.