fire safe

The National Fire Chiefs Council's Business Safety Week is being held from the 7th to 13th September this year. It’s an annual event that offers important reminders about key fire safety messages businesses mustn’t overlook. And this year, that’s especially pertinent. Because while the safety focus has recently – and quite understandably - been on reducing coronavirus transmission, the need to ensure that workplaces continue to be fire safe environments has not gone away.

So what are some of the main messages of the week?

The focus of the safety week is on reminding businesses about what they need to do to prevent, protect and respond to workplace fire incidents.  Employers are being encouraged to review fire risk assessments and emergency plans to make sure they remain up to date and that they continue to have all the necessary actions in place to reduce the risk of fire in their workplaces.  As in previous years, it’s also promoting messages around arson prevention, reducing false alarms and making sure employees know how to play their part in ensuring a fire safe workplace.

Have there been any changes to risk in your workplace?

This year’s business safety week is running during a period when many companies, organisations and educational establishments are transitioning back to full operating mode, having had ‘business as usual’ on pause or reduced for several months now.  Clearly there’s a whole new layer of complexity to deal with as a result of the pandemic and with so many additional health and safety issues to manage, many companies may have unintentionally fallen behind on dealing with fire safety issues. At the same time, the changing risk environment could have created some additional fire issues that need to be take into account.

Business Safety Week offers an opportunity to refocus on fire safety in your premises and to check your fire risk assessments. These are some of the points to think about:

  • Is fire prevention equipment working properly?

One of the most obvious issues is around fire prevention and detection equipment maintenance. Schedules may have fallen behind, both in workplaces that have been empty for a while but also in those that found themselves suddenly needing to ramp up service provision or production. Has all equipment been tested, is it up to date with its servicing, and are you confident everything is working properly?

  • Have there been any workspace layout changes?

Potentially, workspace layouts may have been adjusted for a range of reasons including the need to accommodate social distancing guidelines and to erect protective screens. People might have been moved into different spaces. Do any of those people have specific needs when it comes to fire safety and is this still provided for?  Make sure that fire risk assessments and associated recommendations remain appropriate for the layout you have now and that fire detection and fire-fighting equipment has not become obstructed in any way.

  • Are there any building user changes that need to be taken into account?

Although challenging economic conditions prevail, there are still some sectors where increased demand has led to recruitment. There will also be situations where organisations are bringing in temporary workers to cover sickness or employees quarantining or self-isolating.

Even if people have been brought in on a short term basis, don’t overlook the importance of familiarising them with fire safety procedures. Existing employees might have been temporarily redeployed to other areas too. It’s vital they are given suitable training applicable to the new location and know what to do in the event of fire, including how to evacuate. Check you still have enough trained people in place to facilitate an evacuation.

  • Are fire doors still being used correctly?

Good ventilation is recommended as a way to reduce the risk of virus transmission indoors. There may also be reluctance to touch door handles. Either scenario could lead to people preferring doors to be kept open. But be careful that this doesn’t result in fire doors being left propped open as that will immediately invalidate their use.

  • Are evacuation routes and processes still sufficient?

Some premises might not be fully open yet. If that’s the case, it’s important to make sure sufficient fire escape routes remain accessible for the numbers working within the building. You might need to consider making modifications to assembly points to ensure social distancing requirements can be complied with too. And don’t forget that roll calls might need to be adapted to reflect when people are in the premises and working from home.

Fire safety compliance remains as critical as ever

Despite everything else going on, the bottom line is that businesses and organisations must comply with fire safety legislation. It protects people, it protects buildings and property and ultimately, it protects the future of the whole business. If there was a fire incident at your premises, and you were unable to provide evidence of having done everything possible to comply with requirements, you could run the risk of not being insured and even face criminal prosecution.  If you’d like further help and guidance about making sure your workplace continues to be fire safe, please contact us for advice.