As every sector attempts to resume business, it’s inevitable that with the remaining government guidelines in place, we’ll have to get used to a slightly different ‘normal’ where each of them are concerned. But what does this mean for the fire trade and fire safety in general?
Whatever your work or business, it’s likely you’re making changes to how the premises is used and staffed to keep in line with government guidance. However, in doing so, it’s important to be mindful you’re not impacting existing necessary fire precautions.
In this detailed guide, we take a look at why fire safety should remain a priority when creating a COVID-secure workplace, and outline any changes that should be implemented to remain legally compliant.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies at all times throughout the COVID-19 situation. The first consideration for returning businesses should be that many premises may have experienced changes in risk – whether they’ve been closed during lockdown or not. We’re all subject to the pressures of being safe at the moment so for real peace of mind, it’s recommended the responsible person reviews the business’ fire risk assessment. It’s worth noting that if the responsible person is absent because they’re self-isolating, it’s their responsibility to ensure there are trained staff to assist with fire safety in their place. The fire risk assessment will review whether measures have been put in place to navigate recent circumstances and whether they could have actually increased fire risk. Perhaps the business has experienced a surge in demand – if there are more products or materials in the premises or you’re taking more deliveries hence increased storage, for example, the fire risk assessment must take this into account and provide measures to reduce risk. The fire risk assessment should take into account the added risk of staff reductions (due to sickness or self-isolation) and how this may impact on evacuations and other safety processes.
Once you’re happy with the reviewed risk assessment, it’s advised you then revisit and review it regularly while we’re following government guidelines throughout the pandemic.
The building’s fire alarm system should be in good working order and tested every week. Viral social campaign #TestItTuesday is still working hard to remind people at home and back in the office of the weekly fire alarm test. Routine fire drills are crucial for an effective and successful evacuation in the event of an emergency – and they must continue as work returns to normal. As part of the review of the fire risk assessment, employers and building owners may consider the existing evacuation plan and assembly point inappropriate while maintaining minimum staffing levels. It may be decided to change the location of the evacuation assembly point so social distancing can be maintained and government guidelines observed. All these changes should be outlines in the fire risk assessment, communicated to all staff and signs installed in the premises to instruct actions and directions in the case of a fire.
Where ‘vulnerable’ people are employed, it should be ensured their support needs are met. Personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) must also be regularly reviewed.
Fire doors, as always, should remain closed for them to be effective in the event of a fire. They should never be wedged open and while some businesses may be tempted to do this in an attempt to remove touchpoints like handles and locks, this should be avoided and other coronavirus control measures sought. Fire doors should only ever be held open by automatically release devices and a drop down seal should be fitted.
In terms of fire extinguishers in this new fire safety context, all rules and regulations remain the same. The right fire extinguishers should be installed for the setting and they should be maintained on a regular basis and serviced by a qualified technician every year – fire safety legislation hasn’t been relaxed. Make sure fire extinguishers are cleaned regularly to avoid cross-contamination. For businesses whose employees are working from home, it’s advised employers encourage them to get familiar with the basics of fire safety at home. Send them our fire safety at home checklist so they’re aware of the measures they can put in place.
As with the commercial world, as adjust to new norm, fire safety advice for in the home and everyday living remains the same too. If anything, while so many of us continue to work from home, the advice is even more vital. That means installing fire alarms and testing them regularly, taking extra care while cooking, not overloading sockets with electrical equipment, ensuring heaters are kept well away from anything that can catch alight and taking care to turn appliances off on an evening before bed. It’s a good idea to actually plan for a fire – make sure all family members know how to escape and the best route and always keep door and window keys where everyone in the house can find them.
Local fire services offer a home fire safety visit. However, it’s worth finding out if yours has changed how it’s carrying out home fire safety visits due to the pandemic. They’ll likely have questions to assess the level of risk in your home and your vulnerability and if you’re visited, the appropriate hygiene precautions and social distancing guidelines will be followed. Contact your local fire service to book a home fire safety visit.
For home fire safety tips and educational activities to involve the whole family, download our activity sheets.
by Toria Jones
BY Amy Moseley
BY Amy Moseley
BY Amy Moseley
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