Q&A with Kmart Australia: Implementing fire safety in the retail environment

Charles Hammersla, National Facilities & Compliance Manager at Kmart Australia answers our questions about fire safety in the retail environment. 

Charles Hammersla, National Facilities & Compliance Manager at Kmart Australia

Charles Hammersla, National Facilities & Compliance Manager at Kmart Australia

1. What fire protection challenges do retailers face?

Retailers have a duty of care to our teams and customers to protect them from fire risks when they visit or work in our premises. Generally, our stores are consistent in terms of merchandise mix and we also try to deliver a consistent shop floor layout. What this means is that our fire protection strategies can also be consistent across our stores.

The main challenge we tend to face is the human element – to keep the focus of our teams on maintaining general housekeeping standards, including those relating to sprinkler head or switchboard clearances, and egress path blockages.

Principally this means that we need to be consistent around our fire protection approach – and make it as easy as possible to control risks in our environments.

2. What are the most common fire risks in a retail environment?

The fire risks in retail premises are varied and can cause fires of varying size, type and when fires do happen they have the potential to spread very quickly. Some of the key risks we tend to see in retail environments are:

  • Various types of merchandise – varying levels of flammability and “burn types”
  • Merchandise height
  • Coreflute in shop floor fixtures (this is the plastic panel at the rear of a fixture)
  • High piled storage in the back of house
  • Fuel for backup generators
  • Electrical fire risks in switchboards

3. Can you provide some examples of the processes that Kmart Australia follows to manage fire risks?

Kmart Australia uses a standardised, monthly checklist for all Australian stores. The checklist includes a check of emergency and exit lighting, egress paths, sprinkler head clearance, emergency power supplies and other various general compliance items.

We review this checklist monthly and reward stores for consistent compliance. This vigilance and system of reward and recognition ensures that stores are consistently compliant (even at a point in time) and that store management teams are aware of their general day to day obligations around fire safety systems.

To support the continued focus on fire safety, the Kmart Australia Facilities team, state safety, zone and state operations managers also inspect stores on a frequent basis and check the store. We find that this method, when used in conjunction with our preventative maintenance program, ensures the best level of compliance when considering the number of stores we have in Australia. One business, one standard as I say.

4. How has Kmart Australia streamlined the maintenance and servicing of fire protection equipment?

Kmart Australia has moved wholly to the 2012 version of the AS 1851 standard across all of our Australian properties. The 2012 version of the standard has removed the requirement for a specific technical specification to be written and attached to our fire maintenance contracts – saving us significant time and financial resources. Now we engage our contractors referencing the standard – to ensure we are protected from regulatory and standard changes as they occur. This gives us peace of mind and a clear set of goal posts when judging contractor performance.

Notwithstanding, Kmart remains pragmatic in our approach to the standard. As with many other retailers, we occupy buildings of varying ages – which also present a variety of fire protection systems. These must all be maintained, and whilst the standard provides a way for achieving this, some require specific tasks, approaches and methodologies to meet those requirements. We rely on the advice of Wormald and, in some cases, manufacturer’s guidelines, when determining our course of action.

We have engaged Wormald to help us maintain older equipment, or site specific features as required. This gives us an appropriate peace of mind when sites are unique.

5. You have been a long-time supporter and customer of Wormald. What do you value about its offering? Can you describe how Wormald has worked with you meet your business objectives?

I have always found Wormald to be a technical leader in the field of fire services in Australia. We have worked hard over many years to reach the levels of compliance we are seeing through independent reporting and Wormald’s consistent level of national delivery has been instrumental in this work.

I would also suggest that Wormald is the only fire services contractor currently looking at testing tolerance in detail. Testing tolerance is a difficult concept to achieve however I feel confident that Wormald can partner effectively with Kmart Australia to deliver this requirement. Essentially, Wormald provides me with the confidence that Kmart’s fire services are being maintained effectively, across all of our Australian stores.

Charles Hammersla is the National Facilities & Compliance Manager for Kmart Australia Ltd, overseeing the Facilities Management team that looks after a fleet of over 200 stores across Australia and New Zealand. One of his passions within facilities management has always been fire safety and building compliance. He oversees fire maintenance compliance across Australia and New Zealand and also assist project teams with more difficult compliance issues relating to our store refurbishments.

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