One of the biggest downsides of working in the ICT industry is continually starting new contracts and having to go through induction training each time.
You’ll typically receive health and safety training (think desk ergonomics and safe lifting) as well as fire and emergency training. As part of the first week of starting a new job, you’ll usually go around the office and see where the fire extinguishers are located, where the emergency exits are and the floor maps.
Unfortunately, in one of my temporary jobs the fire alarm went off and nobody knew what to do. The team had been working for over a month without receiving fire or emergency training. This led to confusion, disarray and a number of points of failure.
While working a night shift, I could faintly hear an alarm. Perhaps it was in a nearby building or on another floor. A few minutes later, the alarm become louder and constant. One of the younger trainers walked around and told everyone to keep working.
From my numerous drills in previous jobs, I knew that this was the first signal to lock your computer (grab your bag or wallet) and get ready to leave the building.
A few minutes later the alarm changed to the second phase with the loud recording saying ‘evacuate’. The instruction was clear to me that I needed to leave the building.
Unfortunately, a medical incident occurred and blocked the main regular exit. People started to mull around dazed and confused. I decided to go to the other exit and at this point, I realised I didn’t have a clue where the fire stairs were located.
When I got to the stairs, there were a couple of guys blocking the area. They refused to open the emergency door. A crowd gathered in the lift area. Someone remarked ‘We’d all be incinerated by now if this was a real fire.’
I urged them to open the door. I told a co-worker who’d been there a while, and he fetched the fire warden. It was only after he turned up and told them to open the door, that they complied.
It was clear that many of my co-workers had never had any emergency or fire training. Fortunately, we were on the second floor and we were soon outside.
Out of the office and safe, the staff were confused as to where we were meant to congregate. Some people walked across the road; others walked to the Queens Street Mall. Another person thought we were to meet outside of the city hall.
We evacuated the building in time and the incident was resolved within an hour. I was pretty disappointed in the lack of direction and confusion about the situation.
In the past, I’d been through many fire drills and most people were clear on the instructions. The incident really showed the difference between taking emergency scenarios seriously or not.
If you’re working in an office and do not know what to do in an emergency, then please talk to your manager or human resources. This training should be a mandatory part of your induction in all jobs as part of your country’s Occupational Health and Safety laws.