A candle burning day and night in an empty building is an obvious fire risk but minimising that risk is all in a day's work for Michael Pereira.
Michael runs Ablemarsh Safety Consultants and he recently advised a church that keeps a flame burning 24 hours a day. He told his client to remove all combustible items from the area and to surround the candle with fire retardant material. Should the worst happen, he recommended smoke alarms to provide early warning.
"We have to work with a church's ethos when we look at how to make them safer," says Michael.
The company, based in Croydon, provides health and safety support services to places of worship throughout the UK. It does fire risk assessments and general risk assessments and audits. It also identifies a competent person to take responsibility for health and safety issues and often recommends training for them.
Health and safety and fire risk assessments
Michael founded the company 11 years ago having previously worked as a property manager. Responsibility for health and safety came with the job and he became increasingly interested in the subject.
"I did a health and safety course and found the training inspirational. I liked the fact that I could do a job that helps save lives and which makes the work environment healthier. I decided to retrain as a health and safety consultant."
Several family members work for the company including Michael's nephew, Nick, whose role is to drum up new business.
By law, anyone responsible for premises has to have a fire risk assessment. Michael finds that most churches have a lot to learn. Housekeeping is often poor with rubbish dumped in cupboards and dangerous wiring. Fire doors are frequently removed, wedged open or broken.
In a big open space like a church these factors allow a fire to take hold and spread. When he does an audit, Michael likes to be accompanied by the person responsible for health and safety so that he can highlight issues of concern and prepare them for what to expect in his report.
Prevention is better than cure
Arson is a major threat but if churches do not want cameras, he looks even more closely at their door and window security systems. If they have rubbish bins outside, they must be secured well away from the church or locked inside. Arsonists can otherwise place bins next to the building and set them alight.
Places of worship are required to have lightning protection certified every 11 months. Michael found one church that failed to have its system certified for 10 years because they found it too expensive. He found a contractor that was able to renew their earthing rods at a reasonable cost.
In another case, he offered a cash-strapped church a substantial discount in return for Ablemarsh carrying out remedial work over a longer period than usual.
Listed buildings often require imaginative solutions: if a fire door is out of the question, Michael recommends additional fire detection; if a wired system is an issue they can opt for wireless instead; if signs pointing to fire exits are not allowed, stewards and staff are trained to direct people out of the building.
Michael finds there is a solution in 99 per cent of cases though these can be expensive. He recommends a relationship of at least three to four years to establish a solid safety base.
"Trying to do it in a year it can be very hard work. Sometimes it's the mindset you have to change. People can be the biggest barrier."
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Profile written by Elena Curti