Even during an extraordinary situation such as the one we find ourselves in now, fire safety during the coronavirus must continue and cannot be put on hold. The harsh reality is that fire doesn’t discriminate and continues to be a risk in everyday life even when the nation is social distancing and in the middle of a lockdown.
As an owner or manager of buildings and businesses, you must carry on meeting your legal responsibilities under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
As an example, fire alarm systems and fire extinguishers should remain fully operational in the event of a fire. This is why weekly tests and monthly checks should be carried out, and is also why it’s so important they are regularly maintained by a qualified technician. This legal obligation hasn’t disappeared, and our engineers and risk assessors are still operating, albeit whilst taking extra precautions themselves.
In fact, the risks within your business are likely to have changed.
Fewer People On-Site
With as many people as possible working from home and only making essentials journeys, it’s highly likely that your business is a much quieter place. This could be a blessing in disguise.
If your business premises are now closed this is an ideal time to ensure your fire safety systems and provisions have been or could be maintained suitably according to legislation. This extends to ensuring all your health and safety duties are up to date to promote a healthy workplace for when life inevitably returns to normal, if safe and appropriate to do so, of course.
But with reduced staffing levels, you may find that it is also appropriate to carry out a new risk assessment to cover you during the coronavirus pandemic. These too extend past fire safety, such as whether particular equipment should be avoided during this time or if additional staff require first aid and fire marshal training to cover the staff absences from the premises.
Fire Safety Rules Remain The Same
Other issues which arise include the propping open of fire doors. While there is a logic to minimising contact with door handles to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus – and all other germs – it would prevent the fire door from doing its job of halting the spread of fire if one were to break out. If you must do this, install a fire door holder which holds the door open but then allows it to automatically shut as soon as the fire alarm is sounded.
However, a regular cleaning routine, with staff and visitors reminded to clean their hands regularly is perhaps more effective.
Additionally, with premises left empty for longer periods than usual, it’s also advised that you take measures to prevent arson. This may involve moving and locking bins away from buildings and ensuring your premises are as secure as possible.
Just being a little more mindful of the risks and keeping on top of your all your health and safety responsibilities not only helps to safeguard your business during this tricky period, but it also helps to reduce the strain on the emergency services so they can better focus their efforts.
Just remember, the coronavirus pandemic will not last forever and life will eventually return to normal, so ensure you’re prepared for now and then.
Further guidance on carrying out a risk assessment is available here
Please refer to GOV.UK Guidance for latest information and advice:
Your local FRS will have more business safety information on their website or can be made available via their business safety teams. Use the NFCC – UK Fire and Rescue Services to find yours.