Fire safety advice during the Coronavirus pandemic
The current Pandemic of Covid19 may adversely affect your business, due to reduced staffing levels and disruption to normal working practice.
But it is vital that the fire safety of the business and the safety of all the people working in or visiting your business are maintained.
You must ensure there are an adequate amount of competent persons to help in the implementation of preventative and protective fire safety measures.
In the event of staff changes or absence, you must ensure there are adequately trained staff to maintain the preventative and protective fire safety measures.
Fire Risk Assessments
It is important to consider reviewing the premises Fire Risk Assessment and whether any changes that are made to the premises or staff to control the spread of Covid 19 are managed and mitigated. Any significant changes should be identified and recorded in the Fire Risk Assessment.
Consideration should be given to the following points:
- Risk Reduction: Have all reasonable measures been taken to reduce the risk of fire? E.g. isolating all non-essential equipment and machinery.
- Interim measures: If any interim measures have been implemented, are all staff aware and understand why and what they are?
- New or emerging risk: Has the risk changed? Have things been put in place as a response to the situation that have, on reflection, increased fire risk? (E.g. Introduction of oxygen use / storage)
- Vulnerable people: Are the most vulnerable receiving support and are PEEP’s being completed and reviewed to assess individual needs/ changes in their vulnerability? – Who is caring for the vulnerable and can they still maintain it?
During this period we would advise you to review your fire risk assessment regularly.
Fire alarm actuation and emergency procedures
Consideration should be given to adopting a version of the following process to reduce disruption, maintain fire safety and minimise the need for external persons (in this case firefighters) to enter your premises at a time when you may be ‘shielding’ residents from preventable exposure to potential Covid19 transmission.
- If the fire alarm activates, follow your normal emergency procedures.
- Suitably trained staff should investigate the source of the alarm to establish if a confirmed fire or a false alarm.
- If, at any point during the investigation a fire is discovered or there is a smell of burning or smoke that cannot be accounted for, dial 999 and ask for the fire service immediately – stating that an evacuation is in progress.
- If, following the investigation, you are certain there is no fire and no suspicion of a fire, the emergency procedures can be cancelled. Under these circumstances, do not call the fire service and inform the alarm receiving company if applicable.
- The fire alarm system should be reset by a competent member of staff and the fire alarm log book updated with a record of the event
To prevent any unnecessary disruption, please ensure any known problems causing false fire alarm activations are corrected immediately. This to ensure any fire alarm activations that do occur are genuine.
With a reduced work force there may be an increased likelihood of people working alone within buildings. You need to ensure there is adequate provision of warning in case of fire so they do not become trapped.
Fire alarm systems
Is your fire alarm system maintained in good working order?
It would be reasonable to temporarily suspend testing the fire safety systems in any buildings that are not occupied. Ensure your insurance company are notified to ensure the decision will not invalidate your insurance. However any buildings that are occupied would need to carry on as normal. Please see below for guidance:
- Where the premises are closed to all. Tests and checks can be realistically suspended until the premises are reoccupied. At which point the business should recommence with the routines at the earliest opportunity.
- Where the premises are closed to the public but employees remain on the premises. The routines continue as normal. Where reduced numbers of employees are present those who are left must be competent to carry on with these routines.
- Where the premises are closed to public and employees but essential management or technician visits are required. To adopt a dynamic risk assessment approach. To check the perimeter before entry, to check the fire panel for operation/fault, to check the escape routes for obstruction and final exit, to make sure they have a phone signal to dial 999. Lone working should be avoided where possible and to practice social distancing as per government guidance.
- In premises that are shared with other businesses or residential dwellings (E.g. shops/offices with flats above) and the fire alarm system covers all areas, testing routines must continue as normal.
If your fire safety systems are due maintenance by a qualified engineer, and there are restrictions in place to limit the number of visitors to your premises, you may decide to delay the attendance of the engineer.
If you take this action, you must record this as a significant finding in the fire risk assessment, highlighting the importance of the regular tests you undertake to ensure the systems remain fully functional.
There may still be occasions when engineers or contractors have to attend your premises to maintain essential fire safety systems. You should plan ahead for this eventuality within your Business Continuity arrangements.
If you are uncertain whether maintenance schedules can be safely extended for the systems in your premises, you should contact a qualified fire safety system engineer.
When taking in to account fire safety measures and government guidance regarding reducing contact and washing of hands, fire safety should still remain a top priority within the workplace.
Buildings are fitted with self-closing fire doors to prevent smoke and fire from spreading from one room to another and to protect escape routes.
The wedging open of fire doors to reduce contact from door handles or push pads should not be practised. Only fire doors that have an approved hold open device fitted to the door that activates on the sound of the fire alarm may be held open.
Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service strongly advises against the practice of wedging fire doors and asks responsible persons to consider other control measures.
Buildings not in use
If your building is temporarily closed there are some simple measures to safeguard against both accidental and deliberate fires.
- Isolate utilities and machinery that are not required – but ensure your security/fire alarms are still operative.
- Close all fire doors.
- Don’t store combustible materials against the building and consider other measures to prevent arson
- Where possible ask your local community to help keep an eye on your premises.
Blocks of flats, houses in multiple occupation and student accommodation
Fire safety within dwellings is an extremely important issue, especially in mixed use premises and where unrelated occupiers, who live independently from one another, share common areas of the same building.
Key considerations should be:
- Ensure that fire safety systems, including fire alarm and smoke control systems are in good working condition, tested appropriately and maintained.
- Ensure that common areas and means of escape routes are clear.
- Ensure refuse compounds and other storage areas are not overflowing and are not immediately next to buildings – minimum distance of 6m should be maintained where possible.
- Ensure that all occupiers are familiar with the evacuation strategy.
- Ensure that all fire safety features are maintained, i.e. fire doors are closed and not wedged open.
Any change of strategy needs constant review and robust management.
Coronavirus outbreak related guidance documents from the National Fire Chiefs Council:
- National Fire Chiefs Council advice on COVID-19 and waking watch
- National Fire Chiefs Council advice to businesses - 9 April
- National Fire Chiefs Council- COVID-19 – Protection - Advice to Premises
For any further advice please contact the Fire Safety Team via our website www.cambsfire.gov.uk