Return to work – 9 Key Fire Safety Matters


Fire safety. It might not be something at the top of your list at the moment but as we all look forward to business operations resuming, there are some key fire safety matters to consider that I would like to share. This guidance will help to assist businesses returning to work and to ensure they continue to operate in a safe manner.

1) Fire Risk Assessment

Upon re-opening your business following the easing of the lockdown restrictions, you should review
your Fire Risk Assessment. This is to ensure that it takes into account any changes to your business operations due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the impact this may
have on your preventative and protective fire safety measures. The review should consider the following, but this is not exhaustive:

a) staffing levels and availability to carry out an evacuation where required;
b) disabled people and any persons who may require assistance in an emergency;
c) lone workers;
d) any changes in working practices;
e) stock levels;
f) testing and maintenance regimes;
g) staff training, including fire wardens or fire marshals;
h) the emergency evacuation plan;
i) firefighter access and facilities.

2) Emergency Evacuation Plan

The Emergency Evacuation Plan for the premises needs to be reviewed. This is to ensure that it
aligns with your reviewed Fire Risk Assessment and current staffing levels for the building. Any
Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans that were in place prior to the lockdown that are still
required, need to be reviewed with those individuals, ensuring they are still suitable in line with the
reviewed Emergency Evacuation Plan. Where businesses have implemented one-way systems to enable social distancing, the impact this may have on the Emergency Evacuation Plan needs to be assessed, as does the use of lifts to evacuate staff, visitors and residents who cannot make use of the stairways.

3) Fire Safety Risk Management

Before your business reopens, you should check all high risk areas (e.g. kitchens, plant rooms,
electrical intakes, server rooms, boiler rooms) to ensure no or minimal combustible materials have
built up during the lockdown. Particular care should be taken when re-energising any plant and
equipment, to minimise ignition risks. Where portable electrical equipment and appliances have been switched off during the lockdown restrictions, you should consider if portable appliance testing is required to ensure the safety of this equipment before reuse. This consideration should be extended to staff returning to work with privately owned non-tested portable appliances and charging equipment.

4) Fire Safety Systems

Where businesses were closed during the lockdown period, fire safety systems may not have been
subject to recent testing and maintenance. Before returning to work, all these systems i.e. fire
alarms, sprinklers and fire extinguishers etc. should be tested/checked. Fully functioning systems
are vital to the safety of your business and all those working in or visiting the premises. If you
identify any faults with the systems, any required maintenance or repairs should be carried out
before returning to work.

5) Means of Escape Routes

Businesses should carry out an inspection of the escape routes (e.g. stairways and corridors) to
ensure that are all clear and accessible for all people in the building. This inspection should include
all external parts of the escape route to ensure fire exit doors can be opened in an emergency (these might have been locked during the lockdown) and no obstructions exist once outside of the
building. If you share an escape route with another business, remember that those may not be
open. Arrangements may be needed with these businesses to ensure shared escape routes can still be used, or alternative escape routes located.

6) Staff Training

Where staff numbers have changed, businesses must ensure that they continue to provide
appropriate staff training on their return, ensuring that all staff know what to do in a fire situation.
Where staff with specific responsibilities during an evacuation i.e. fire wardens or fire marshals have not returned to work, you must ensure that other suitably trained staff are available or appointed as necessary.

7) Firefighter Access and Facilities

Before returning to work, all facilities and access for firefighters i.e. rising mains and firefighting lifts
etc. should be tested. Fully functioning systems are vital to the safety of firefighters attending your
business in an emergency. If you identify any faults with the systems, any required maintenance or
repairs should be carried out before returning to work. Business should also ensure that all access
points to their business are available for emergency vehicles.

8) Contractors

Where contractors return to your business to carry out essential works, you need to ensure they are aware of any changes to your emergency plans and the risks posed to them by this.

9) Arson

When returning to work, business owners should ensure that there have been, and continue to be,
regular collections of waste and combustible material. Refuse that has been allowed to accumulate
should be removed or moved away from the vicinity of the premises, as this can be a target for
arson attacks. All security measures should be tested to ensure that they are still in operation and
provide for safety. Staff should be reminded that the disposal of any smoking materials should be
completed safely and away from refuse.

Large, medium or small business, it makes not difference, giving these 9 steps some thought will put employers on the right path to a safer workplace.

Simon Thomas. Director

Thomas Fire Consultancy Ltd.