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Alarm sounds... but exit is locked

The damaged bar area of the Boate Kiss nightclub is pictured in the southern Brazil city of Santa Maria. A fire at the club killed at least 231 people early on Sunday . Photo: Wuri Weber/Agencia O Dia

The damaged bar area of the Boate Kiss nightclub is pictured in the southern Brazil city of Santa Maria. A fire at the club killed at least 231 people early on Sunday . Photo: Wuri Weber/Agencia O Dia

The nightclub is crowded, disco lights are flashing and people are having a good time. Then the fire alarm goes off.

There needs to be a shift in mentality. Employers need to invest in their staff and train them

Most people will probably ignore it, but if there really is a fire, you do not have very long to get out, Civil Protection Department director Patrick Murgo warned.

“We frequently come across fire exits which are locked with a padlock. Obviously, this defeats the purpose. It’s normally an issue of finances and security – they would need to employ another person to guard the door,” Mr Murgo said yesterday, a day after more than 230 youngsters were killed in a nightclub in Brazil.

“Fire spreads very quickly. Every second is crucial,” Mr Murgo said, as he fielded questions by The Times in connection with Malta’s health and safety standards.

The Health and Safety Monitoring Board as well as the Malta Tourism Authority perform a number of spot checks on various entertainment venues.

An exercise in risk assessment is performed and the owner is instructed on what should be changed or added. Failure to comply can even result in having the operating licence withdrawn.

However, the committee is only made up of five members, which limits the number of establishments they are able to assess within a short span of time.

Each building is also assigned an occupancy rate but, according to Mr Murgo, there are many instances where this is exceeded.

“There needs to be a shift in mentality. Employers need to invest in their staff and train them so they can be prepared and guide others in case of emergency. They need to know how to administer first aid.

“Ultimately, it’s all about achieving a balance between security and safety – a feat which is possible.”

When a building is being developed, the department worked with the planning authority to give advice on health and safety issues.

However, certain changes in a building’s layout could create more risks.

Mr Murgo explained that when, for instance, an owner decided his nightclub was too large and converted part of the area into a restaurant and the rest into a smaller disco, the new design had to include the adequate safety measures.

An area which was intended as one large open-plan space and equipped with the adequate positioning and number of fire exits must then be re-assessed if its layout was changed.

“We understand that property is very expensive and every square metre is being used for commercial purposes. But if a building was intended for a specific purpose and was then modified, then safety measures should be modified accordingly.”

What to do when you get to a nightclub or public venue

• Familiarise yourself with the venue and identify all fire exits. Smoke can obscure visibility, while fire can cause a power blackout.

• Is it too crowded? If it feels too crowded, then it is, and you should avoid it.

• If you see an outbreak of fire, immediately bring it to the attention of the staff and inform people in the adjacent area.

• If a building alarm goes off, stop what you are doing and get out. Fire spreads very quickly – you might only have a few minutes to get out.

• Always respect the rules. Do not smoke if it is not permitted.

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