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Fire Safety And Coronavirus – A Change In Risk For Employers

Fire Safety And Coronavirus – A Change In Risk For Employers
18 June 2020
 

The National Fire Chiefs Council is calling on businesses to review the change in fire risk in their buildings, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, as we remember those who were lost three years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, commemorations and memorial events were forced to move online due to lockdown restrictions. It serves as another indication of the direction our lives have taken in terms of behavioural norms.

This new behaviour presents a new risk in terms of fire safety standards. Not only must the implications of a new office layout and social distancing be considered, but employers must navigate other additional changes in risk in their buildings.

Many businesses, whether they have remained open, or not, are experiencing changes in risk. In all cases, businesses should be aware of these changes in risk and review their Fire Risk Assessments (FRA) accordingly, to ensure they are suitable and sufficient, as recommended by the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Here are some of the main implications to consider, based on the published guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council :

 

Vulnerable People

 

Businesses who employ people who have some health vulnerabilities, and have made adjustments to allow them to return to work, such as isolating them in a separate office, must keep this in mind when considering escape in the event of a fire.

Employers should continue to undertake and review their Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for their staff. Procedures should be reviewed so that they accurately reflect the staff available, and takes into account any additional risks incurred by new working locations or patterns.

 

Alterations To Buildings

 

The National Fire Chiefs Council is advocating that employers are cautious around the potential risk of temporary alterations to buildings. This might be things such as wedging fire doors open to reduce the need to touch door handles. This could affect fire safety measures to provide protection from fire and access to means of escape. Fire doors are an important fire safety measure and they should be kept closed. Fire doors can only be held open by automatic releasing hold-open devices specifically designed and installed for this purpose. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic does not remove any requirements under the Building Regulations to ensure that alterations meet the functional requirements.

 

Desk with computer

Picture: A photograph of a typical office desk with a laptop, mug, pen pot, notebooks and a lamp.

Employers may have undertaken other measures on their premises such as partitioning or simply locking of doors that may compromise a building’s existing fire strategy. Some premises may also have been repurposed to undertake other work. Such actions may increase the risk due to the type of work being carried out, the number of staff present and any material works that may be necessary to allow the building to facilitate its task.

In all cases, a review of the FRA should be undertaken to determine the effect on risk and the mitigation measures that may need to be taken.

 

Identifying A Responsible Person

 

If members of the team who would normally deal with fire safety have been furloughed, required to self-isolate, or are otherwise unavailable, it’s crucial to ensure that there people on-site who can take over this responsibility.

In a company, it is the Responsible Person’s responsibility to ensure there are sufficiently trained staff to assist them in managing fire safety. The Responsible Person,  as defined in Article 3 of the RR(FS)O 2005, is a hierarchy where the Responsible Person is: 

 

  1. The employer
  2. Where there is no employer, the person who has control of the premises
  3. The owner

 

The National Fire Chiefs Council advice is that, where doubt exists, you should seek advice from a competent fire risk assessor and advice on choosing an assessor can be found here.

 

Evacuation And Maintaining Social Distancing

 

Questions have been asked regarding whether staff should evacuate if the fire alarm sounds, as social distancing may be impacted. The National Fire Chiefs Council point out that it is essential all occupants leave a premises and go to the pre-determined Assembly Point in event of a fire.

Whilst social distancing may be impacted during the evacuation, this can be managed and by following government guidelines on maintaining hygiene at the Assembly Point. 

Current emergency plans will most likely need to be reviewed, in terms of Fire Marshall provision and the Assembly Point, ensuring that all employees are aware of any changes.

 

Protecting Those Working From Home

 

Employees should be encouraged to observe the following measures:

 

  • Take the time to check home fire safety arrangements, and ensure that smoke alarms are fitted, tested and are working correctly
  • Use electrical items safely e.g. do not “daisy chain” extension leads.
  • Make sure all members of the household know what to do if there is a fire particularly, elderly people and children.
  • Bedtime Checks – Close doors, unplug electrical appliances and chargers, check heaters are off, and any candles and cigarettes are properly extinguished
  • Remind everyone if there is a fire: Get Out, Stay Out and Call the Fire Service Out by dialling 999

 

Picture: A photograph of a fire exit sign

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 18 June 2020

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