Despite the pandemic, there are still very many people who work in offices in the UK, and even those who have been working from home will have to return to the office in many instances.
With so many people spending their days in offices, it is important to consider fire safety in offices, although many people would think that there is far more danger of fire breaking out in factories and other types of workplace where there are flammable materials and lots of machinery.
Nonetheless, there are still plenty of fires in offices, and of those fires, the top cause of them has been found to be electrical faults. We do actually use a lot of electrical equipment – computers, photocopiers, printers, mailing equipment, and so on – and they need to be properly maintained and PAT tested. PAT testing should be carried out every two years as a minimum but can be a lot less depending upon the type of equipment and its’ usage.
Another common issue is paper and card and other flammable materials being stored inappropriately – under desks, next to electrical equipment, and so on. There are also fires that occur as the result of equipment in office kitchens such as toasters being left unattended when in use.
Another common fire hazard is working in tall buildings. Many office blocks have multiple storeys and escaping from these can be difficult in the event of a fire, especially if lifts are out of order.
The main piece of legislation concerning fire risk in offices, and other premises, is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and this identifies what is described as a responsible person in the workplace. You are the responsible person if you are the employer and/or the workplace is to any extent under your control. For example:
- you run the company
- it is a family-owned business
- you are self-employed
You might also be the responsible person if you are not an employer but have a degree of control over the premises, for example, a village hall, charity shop, or place of worship.
The law requires the responsible person to undertake an office fire safety risk assessment, or risk assessment of any other premises, and if there are five or more employees or users, also to keep a written record of it and any action taken as a result. There are over 22,000 fires in non-domestic buildings every year, so it is important that fire risk assessments are carried out and also reviewed regularly. This is because you may make changes in the layout of your office which could have an effect on the risk of fire, or on the means of escape.
It is necessary to identify fire hazards such as sources of fuel or flammable materials and possible sources of ignition. You also need to identify people who are at risk and remove or reduce fire hazards and the consequent risks to people. You need to consider fire detection and warning systems, firefighting equipment, escape routes, signs, and emergency lighting. You also need to prepare an emergency plan and provide training for your employees. Escape routes also have to allow for people who may be on your premises but may be disabled or young children.
In addition, you should ensure fire doors are maintained and do not wedge them open… Ever!
* Ensure that all electrical items are tested and maintained. Similarly, your electrical system should be regularly tested too. Usually around once per year at the very least.
* Don’t overload plug sockets and check that other employees aren’t doing this either.
* Install fire detection and suppression systems (sprinklers, for example) by a reputable service provider. Make sure they are regularly maintained.
Of course, despite the fact that this is law – and that there can be hefty fines for non-compliance and in the worst case a prison sentence – the problem is that most people really have no idea how to do all this effectively. This is why the law permits you as the responsible person to delegate all of this to a “competent person” – in this case the team at UK-Fire Risk Assessments.
We can carry out your fire risk assessment for you and provide you with the written report that you need, together with all our recommendations of the steps that you may need to take in order to be compliant.