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Fire Risk Management for Estates

By Santam: Specialist Real Estate

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Every time we hear stories of veld fires, we are alerted to the very real danger to our homes of a runaway fire. The devastating Knysna fires of 2017 are a vivid reminder of just how quickly a fire can rage out of control and cause millions of rands of damages. Coupled with domestic risks such as faulty wiring or appliances, it’s essential that bodies corporate and trustees review their estate’s insurance to ensure that they are adequately covered against fire risk.

Proper fire insurance cover is essential

A fire can financially cripple any establishment. Flames, smoke and the water used to extinguish the fire can severely damage buildings and residents’ belongings. Should an estate not have sufficient fire insurance cover, it may not be in a position to rebuild or repair damages caused by a fire event. Imagine owners forced to pay for any repairs to their homes out of their own pockets, and the lawsuits against the body corporate. This could be financially devastating for anyone involved.

According to the Sectional Titles Act of 1986, bodies corporate have an obligation to insure the building or buildings in a scheme against fire and such other risks as prescribed, and to keep them insured to the replacement value.

The insurance policy itself would usually have special and/or general conditions, such as prevention of loss clauses, that would specify that the body corporate should take precautions to prevent losses or accidents. This is usually very specific about fire prevention, for example making it a condition that all firefighting equipment is installed, serviced and maintained in accordance with the appropriate regulations and local authority bylaws.

As South Africa’s leading insurer, we recognise that proper risk management is the key. Good risk every time we hear stories of veld fires, we are alerted to the very real danger to our homes of a runaway fire. The devastating Knysna fires of 2017 are a vivid reminder of just how quickly a fire can rage out of control and cause millions of rands of damages. Coupled with domestic risks such as faulty wiring or appliances, it’s essential that bodies corporate and trustees review their estate’s insurance to ensure that they are adequately covered against fire risk management means that the trustees and managing agent, along with the assistance of owners and occupiers of sections, take proactive steps to ensure that there is sufficient protection in the event of a fire. So, what can bodies corporate and trustees do to reduce exposure to certain types of fire risks?

Fire risk management | Focus areas for estates

In order for bodies corporate and trustees to manage their fire risk, it is essential that a comprehensive fire safety management policy is in place. The following points must form a part of any estate’s fire safety management policy.

Fire extinguishers

• Make sure that there are fire extinguishers, in good working order, located close to any places where fires can be expected to break out.
• A conduct rule could oblige owners and occupiers to keep fire extinguishers in the kitchens and next to any open fireplaces, such as barbecues/braais, in sections or in exclusive-use areas.

Electrical and Gas Certificates of Compliance (C.O.C)

• Old and unsafe electrical wiring can be a major fire risk. All electrical wiring must be kept in good order and condition, so as to reduce the risk of fire.
• Prevention is much better than cure, and as such, we recommend that electrical installations are never compromised.
• The use of gas for both cooking and heating has become more common. It is therefore imperative that these gas installations and connections are regularly serviced. Gas receptacles should be stored and secured in accordance with regulations.
• The provision of a valid electrical and/or gas Certificate of Compliance provides peace of mind by confirming that the installation is legally compliant and that it is safe to use.

General housekeeping

• Avoid the build-up of materials that can act as fuel for a fire; recycling stations with cardboard boxes, papers and plastic containers, for example, should be kept away from dwellings, and emptied on a regular basis.
• Smoke detector alarms should be installed because they serve as an early warning system.
• Choose evacuation points and routes carefully, make sure there are multiple routes, and clearly communicate routes and assembly points to all owners/occupants.

As a major fire event can have far-reaching implications for estates, bodies corporate and trustees are urged to identify what fire prevention measures, early detection systems and firefighting capabilities are in place or risk the very real danger of their estates going up in smoke.

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