No matter what kind of premises you work in, emergency evacuation drills are an essential aspect of fire safety. A fire drill is basically a simulated emergency. Obviously, one of its primary aims is to replicate a situation in which a fire is genuinely taking place, allowing anyone based in the premises to become familiar with what they need to do to leave the area as quickly and safely as possible. It’s also an opportunity for those who have specific responsibilities for fire safety, like fire marshals, to practice what needs to be done and to identify any issues that must be addressed afterwards. Fire drills should be conducted regularly. Exactly what ‘regularly’ means will be guided to a large extent by the nature of your business and its fire risk assessments but as an absolute minimum, they should be carried out annually – and that assumes everyone will be present at the time. If you have a shift-based business or part time workers, for instance, you’ll need to be mindful about checking that everyone has the opportunity to participate in a drill. Be conscious of the need to make sure new staff are informed about your fire evacuation procedures as soon as they start work too. Some tips for conducting an effective fire drill
  • Before the drill
Should you tell people that there’s going to be a fire drill or not? You might feel if people know there’s no actual fire, they could be quite relaxed in their response to getting out, which reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. But, on the other hand, an unexpected alarm can cause unnecessary panic and upset. The decision will to some extent depend on the nature of your workplace and the people in the building; whichever decision you make, ensure the key people are informed beforehand, including your fire alarm monitoring company.  If you decide to tell everyone before the drill, make it very clear that their participation is expected without fail and ensure they are clear on their responsibilities for evacuating safely. Pre-warn visitors too. Make sure you’ve enough trained fire marshals to assist with helping occupants to leave your building. If you are low on numbers to observe the drill (see below), then ask for some volunteer ‘observers’ to keep a note on how things progress during the actual evacuation and make sure they are well briefed on things to look for. During the drill The drill isn’t just an opportunity to practise evacuation. The more information and observations made during the fire drill the better. Fire marshals (and, if applicable, observers) should use the opportunity to gather as much information as possible about every aspect of the drill. Things to look out for include:
  • Any areas of difficulty on escape routes. Do doors open easily? Are any exits blocked?
  • Inappropriate behaviour – are people delaying evacuation by collecting personal items for instance? Are reaction times quick enough?
  • Are employees using the closest and most suitable fire escape routes?
  • Are any difficulties being experienced by people with particular vulnerabilities? Do people with mobility issues have a safe and effective escape route for instance? Does everyone who needs extra support have a personal emergency evacuation plan that’s working?
  • Is the roll call carried out quickly and efficiently once it’s believed the evacuation is complete? Do any issues arise during it?
  • Do people return back to the building only once it has been initiated by an authorised individual?
Following the drill Record your findings as quickly as possible then use them to review how the fire drill went. Quickly take any remedial action that’s needed like clearing blocked exits or identifying back up escape routes. If there are any significant findings, record them in your fire risk assessment and make sure they’re reviewed regularly to check on progress in addressing them. A final thought – evacuating for reasons other than fire When we talk about building evacuation, we tend to think in terms of fire. But there may be circumstances when an evacuation is required for security issues too. It’s worth looking at your evacuation plan and giving some thought to whether it can be adapted to a security situation or whether you may need to devise a separate plan. For instance, you may have a car park assembly point in the event of a fire. But if there was an evacuation for security reasons, you would not want a group of people gathering together in an obvious location. In the case of a terror attack the advice is to ‘run, hide, tell’. Is there anything you can do beforehand to facilitate this should the worst ever happen? Think about what you can do to tailor your evacuation and drill planning to any threats you might need to be prepared for in addition to fire. Remember, we are able to offer advice on all aspects of fire and security in your workplace so please get in touch if you would like some guidance.