December has been seasonably mild to date, so winter safety tips may not be top of mind for condo managers just yet. Prepared property managers have already begun proactively reducing the risks and impacts of this late, but soon-to-arrive winter weather. To further enhance resident safety programs and protect building operations, consider the following five safety tips for preventing, planning for, and responding to common seasonal emergencies.
1. Monitor room temperatures
Make routine security checks a part of a condominiums’ emergency management program. Task the security officer conducting patrols in a building with identifying unusually cold rooms. Examples of the rooms that should be monitored include sprinkler rooms, electrical rooms, generator rooms, fuel storage rooms, and mechanical / electrical rooms and parking garages.
This more than often allows property managers to address frozen pipes, false alarms, temperature complaints, and HVAC concerns before they become an emergency. Further, this proactive initiative allows property managers to foresee and preempt resident complaints.
2. Patrol the perimeter
Slips, trips and falls are the leading causes of injuries at work in Ontario and the leading injury claim property managers face in 2016. Condo security personnel can have a positive impact on this trend. Direct security personnel conducting routine patrols to include the perimeter of the building, as well as any walkways and access routes to the property.
Have security personnel identify potential concerns, such as icy or wet and slippery surface conditions. Also ensure that security knows what steps to take depending on the findings of these patrols and documents this due diligence. If it’s not documented, it typically did not happen. Quickly detecting an icy walkway and applying salt on it will eliminate a slip, trip and fall hazard. What’s more, it will show that the board of directors and property have an effective safety program in place.
3. Train building staff
The Ontario Fire Code gives building owners numerous responsibilities, the most important of which is to ensure their fire department-approved building plan is implemented. As representatives of building owners, property managers and their supporting staff must be trained to act in the event of an emergency — an often forgotten component of these plans. Fire safety experts offer training sessions, as a component of implementation, and provide certificates of completion that document a property manager and his or her team’s training.
Ensuring building superintendents and on-site security personnel are trained in how to manually start emergency generators, smoke control and exhaust fans emerged as an industry best practice after the 2013 ice storm. These systems are often an integral part of responses to building emergencies, and as such, supervisory staff should know how to use them. When emergency services arrive at a condo’s door, they expect a trained and knowledgeable person to assist them with building-specific details.
4. Hold information sessions
The holidays serve as a reminder of what’s important, such as family. A building’s family of residents expects to be safe in its home.
Residents need to have a basic understanding of the life safety systems in their building, which are ultimately designed to protect them. They also need to know that the decision to evacuate or stay in their suite during a fire alarm is theirs, but the hard fact is that the earlier building occupants leave in the event of a fire, the better the chances they have of surviving. It’s the property manager’s job to ensure that residents make informed decisions.
Fire and smoke move very quickly, and the conditions in any part of the building may change in an instant. Smoke can spread through a building and enter a suite, even when the fire is many floors away. During an emergency, residents will not have much time to decide what to do, so make sure residents know what to do ahead of time. A specific building’s fire and evacuation procedures are found in its approved Fire Safety Plan, which may differ from building to building.
Hold a resident information meeting at least once a year, whether it be a fire safety session or a question-and-answer period for concerned residents. Residents need to know the evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures, including the vital role of their property management team during fire alarms.
5. Ensure holiday safety
Remind residents of the following holiday fire safety tips to ensure buildings are safe and secure this holiday season.
- Decorations: Always choose decorations that are flame-retardant, non-combustible and non-conductive. Never hang holiday decorations from sprinkler heads/pipes, or in a way that would impede their intended use.
- Holiday flowers and plants: Holly and mistletoe can be fatal to small children; the smaller the child, the smaller the dose that can cause serious medical problems. Poinsettia leaves are typically not fatal if swallowed, but can have negative impacts. Call 9-1-1 if a child ingests any of these plants.
- Trees: Do not set real trees up near a heat source such as a radiator, television, fireplace, or heating duct. Artificial trees must have a label indicating that they are fire-retardant. Metal or aluminum trees are conductors of electricity, so do not decorate them with strings of lights or any other electrical product.
- Lights: Use the proper lights for the environment. (Indoor light strings/sets should not be used outdoors because they lack weatherproof connections; some outdoor light strings/sets burn too hot for indoors.) Inspect light strings/set before use, checking for cracked bulbs and for frayed, broken or exposed wires, and discard if faulty.
- Fireplace: Never burn gift wrappings, boxes, cartons, or other types of packing in the fireplace. They burn too rapidly and generate far too much heat.
- Candles: Never leave burning candles unattended. Snuff them out before leaving the room or going to sleep. Check the condominium rules, as open flame/sparks or heat-generating devices may not be allowed for use in the building unless approved.
- Carbon monoxide: Don’t forget to inspect carbon monoxide and smoke alarms for function prior to the holidays.
The above steps can significantly enhance a property manager’s building operations this winter, and better prepare and equip their teams to effectively prevent, prepare, mitigate, respond and ultimately recover from emergencies.
Jason Reid is a building emergency management specialist & senior advisor to National Life Safety Group. He is also the 2015 chair; Resilient Communities Ontario’s Fire & Emergency Management Committee, and a past chair; Emergency Management Committee at BOMA Toronto.