With so many businesses having returned to work since the lockdown restrictions eased, safety is at the forefront of all employers’ minds. Because social distancing measures need to be adhered to, other health and safety measures need to be adapted in order to ensure that every person stays safe in the event of an emergency. Fire safety protocols must still be observed, and with some careful planning, need not be compromised.
Here are some guidelines on how to conduct and adapt Fire Safety procedures with social distancing in mind.
Now we’re back to work…
Business Managers and Owners will have assessed the safe return of employees and may just be operating with a skeleton staff or staggered work pattern. Many have had to reduce the number of staff on the premises at any one time so that social distancing can be enforced.
Just because employee numbers may be down, the fire risks are still the same. Therefore, if you are an employer, owner, landlord, occupier, or anyone else with control of the premises, this makes you the ‘responsible person’. If there’s more than one of you, you must work together to meet your responsibilities.
If your staff have been away for a while, they may wish to take a short refresher course in fire safety, whilst new staff members will need to undergo a fire safety induction. It is important to keep all staff informed of any change in your fire safety arrangements, whether they are working on site or at home.
Fire drills in a socially distant workplace
Fire drills remain vitally important in the workplace. If there have been changes made (either with new or different staff members, or with the fabric of the surroundings) in your workplace, then it is good practice to review your arrangements. Are all fire exits still accessible? Are fire extinguishers still in date? Has there been a change in use in any of the rooms on the premises?
Your fire safety point might be in a small location, so new arrangements may need to be made to find a safe space with a larger capacity to ensure social distancing rules can be met.
So called ‘desktop drills’ are becoming more common, where an overview of evacuation procedures are provided to designated fire officers or the ‘responsible person’. This, however may not account for the questions raised above, and cannot in all fairness be a good substitute for a physical fire drill.
Carrying out the drill
Before embarking on your drill, you should thoroughly review your current arrangements, based on the provision that your assembly point can accommodate the amount of people you have, at a social distance. If it cannot, then it might be more sensible to create different, smaller zones, where lower numbers of people can congregate more safely.
Assign every employee to one of these new zones (taking into account those who might have mobility issues or disabilities), with a register for each.
Ensure that employees are instructed to leave the building in a calm but rapid fashion, observing social distancing rules as they go.
Do make sure that re-entry to the building is carried out in a sensible and safe way with each zone entering in turn to avoid ‘bottlenecking’ and crowding at the doors.
In the meantime…
Emergency services should only ever be called in the event of a real fire. False alarms put undue pressure on the service as well as putting the health and safety of its operatives at risk unnecessarily.
Small fires can usually be tackled by a responsible person with an understanding of the fire extinguishers within your building. Training in how to use fire extinguishers is a service that we provide here at Swift Fire & Safety, as well as offering fire risk assessments and other advice about general fire safety.