A recent study found four major public safety concerns at large retail stores, the Consumers’ Foundation said yesterday.
As the Lunar New Year holiday approaches, major retailers are filling up with crowds of people shopping for New Year’s goods, the foundation said.
From Jan. 8 to Wednesday last week, foundation volunteers visited 77 stores belonging to 34 businesses across Taiwan, including department stores and supermarkets, it said.
Retail stores in a building’s basement should have two or more entrances and exits, but the study found that five stores located underground only had one, foundation honorary chairman Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said.
If there is a fire near the entrance, people would be in danger, he said.
The study also found that 47 percent of the stores that were visited did not have emergency evacuation maps, or ones that were clearly visible, and 37 percent did not have escape equipment that could easily be seen, foundation chairwoman Lei Li-fen (雷立芬) said.
These findings suggest that if such items are not required by law, then businesses do not install them, she said.
Articles 146 to 156 of the Standard for Installation of Fire Safety Equipments Based on Use and Occupancy (各類場所消防安全設備設置標準) do not require the installation of emergency evacuation maps, she said.
Even if there is escape equipment, it is there because of government inspections, and is often placed in areas that are not easily visible, she said.
Meanwhile, more than 20 stores had emergency exits that were left open, the study found.
Emergency exits must be kept shut to prevent the spread of smoke, Cheng said.
At the same time, the exits must not be blocked and must be left unlocked for emergency evacuations, he added.
At the end of last year, the Taipei and New Taipei City fire departments conducted a public safety investigation targeting department stores and supermarkets, and issued fines on the spot, Lei said.
However, the study, conducted less than a month later, still found many flaws, she added.
According to Article 4 of the Consumer Protection Act (消費者保護法), businesses must emphasize consumers’ health and safety, foundation secretary-general Wu Jung-ta (吳榮達) said.
Under Article 60 of the same act, if the products or services provided could endanger a consumer’s life, body or health, the government may order the business to suspend operations in serious cases and ask consumer protection groups to file a lawsuit on its behalf, he said.
Urging businesses to value public safety, the foundation said that government agencies should also perform consistent and thorough safety checks in public places to protect people’s safety.