With hybrid and flexible working becoming the ‘new normal’, an important inclusion is a review of your fire risk. Fire risk assessments are a legal requirement of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005. They should be carried out and reviewed regularly or whenever there has been a significant change – and it’s fair to say the Covid-19 pandemic fits that description.
There are several questions that businesses need to consider when returning to the workplace or introducing hybrid working.
How have social distancing measures affected your office or workspace and previous fire evacuation plan and assembly points?
‘One-way systems’ may have diverted evacuation routes or made them harder to access. Fire doors may have been held open to improve airflow without using automatic alarm fire door releases. The previous evacuation plan may have been through a neighbouring premises that’s now closed or open for shorter hours. Perhaps you have relocated, downsized or reconfigured your existing space. Any of these changes should prompt a review of your fire risk assessment and evacuation plan.
How will changes in work patterns and arrangements impact the safety of your people?
After months out of the workplace, refresher training will be required. Before this, however, you need to consider whether your evacuation plan and related training need to be reviewed and revised.
Staff who were previously fire wardens may have left or be working at another site or different hours. It is important that staff know who will take charge at an evacuation. Which often might need to be the most senior person on-site at the time. There may be periods when there are no or fewer trained fire wardens present to assist with evacuations. You might choose to train more fire wardens or have a rota system so that a minimum number of fire wardens are in the workplace at one time. Alternatively, you could retrain all staff to have basic fire warden duties in an evacuation. Such as checking toilets, meeting rooms, etc. with nominated people taking overall charge.
Once you have agreed on the new approach, staff should be trained and you should carry out a drill. It is recommended that drills are completed at least twice a year, more often where there Is shift working. Evacuation drills are important as they reinforce safe behaviours. Even in small and low-risk workplaces, things can quickly go wrong if staff do not know what to do in an emergency.
Have any of your employees’ personal or physical circumstances changed?
Staff may return with medical conditions they didn’t have before or a disability that prevents them from safely evacuating the building unaided. Understanding your staff and their changing needs, and implementing appropriate measures to ensure their safety is morally and legally part of your duty of care.
Has the way your business now operates increased the fire risk?
Are there systems that have been out of use for long periods of time? Stock that has been lingering or not been moved during the pandemic? Out of date materials on the shop floor? Any of these factors could create a greater fire risk for your business. These unforeseen or unavoidable changes that weren’t even on your radar 18 months ago could be disasters just waiting to happen, severely impacting operations and continuity just when you’re ready to return to business as usual.
When was your fire safety equipment last inspected?
All fire safety equipment is subject to regular checks and inspections, but these may not have been carried out as your building was unoccupied. Fire alarms, smoke detectors, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers and other fire safety systems should be inspected, and weekly and monthly checks should recommence.
As with any health & safety-related risks, the best place to start is with your fire risk assessment. This will highlight the level of risk in all areas across premises, property and people and highlight what needs to be addressed to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. Next, our evacuation plan needs to reflect the practicalities of managing the changes to your working environment and practices. Finally, your staff will need training and information on the new procedures. Also, remember to record your staff training and fire drills in your fire safety records.
For assistance with fire risk assessment and fire evacuation plans please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0141 221 2984. Or alternatively, fill in our online contact form here and we will be happy to help.