Business owners and employers have been required to meet new rules and regulations in the workplace as a result of Covid-19. Some of the new measures that have been required by the government in order for businesses to be able to reopen, even though they may have been shut down again, have unfortunately had some side effects, with new fire safety risks emerging.
It is estimated that fire damage to businesses and homes amounts to over £1 billion a year. According to Home Office statistics, in 2019 there were 153,957 fires attended by fire and rescue services which resulted in 243 fatalities. Furthermore, although many people are working from home, the number of workplace fires shows no sign of diminishing.
Indeed, in order to keep up with new requirements and guidelines, employers are having to become creative in order to keep businesses running while still adhering to Covid-19 restrictions. While employers have a duty of care to staff, customers, and visitors, if the workplace needs to be altered for Covid-19 safety reasons, it is still essential that fire safety standards do not slip.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 puts the onus on an employer or Responsible Person in a business to undertake a fire risk assessment of the premises and also to review it when anything changes. This means that if it is necessary to make structural changes to the workplace in order to be in line with Covid-19 restrictions, it is also necessary to see in which way, if any, these affect the fire safety of the premises.
For example, you may put in place a one-way system, with routes through the workplace having been redirected. This could mean that doors which were accessible previously no longer are. The introduction of screens or partitioning, and spacing desks two metres apart could lead to an effect on smoke detection, fire doors might be propped open – which is illegal. Any or all of this and other alterations come under the heading of making changes to things, and that means that it is necessary to review your fire risk assessment.
It is also necessary to observe the rules in premises which are closed. For instance, you may need to check that the fire alarm system is working in the way that you usually do, even though there is nobody in the office. Where businesses have been forced to close, whether temporarily or permanently, there can be risks with empty buildings and it is necessary to consider these. For example, an empty building might be taken over by street dwellers. Arson is always a possibility. If the building is under your control, you are still responsible for it, and a fire in your building can easily spread to the one next door which might be occupied.
Whenever you make a change to the workplace, it is also necessary to take a look at your evacuation procedures. You need to consider the needs of infirm or elderly employees, visitors, customers, or residents who may need assistance to get out of the building and get to a Total Place of Safety which is simply somewhere away from the building where they will be in no danger from fire. This means that you need to review Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans, or PEEPS, with your staff.
Of course, you also need to ensure that you have sufficient emergency fire-fighting equipment and that it is still accessible. When you alter things around, it may be that signage is no longer visible, so you need to take this into consideration as well.
In addition, you need to ensure that all your staff are fully up to date with any new procedures that it is necessary to introduce. In particular, this will apply when you have made alterations to any evacuation routes. At the same time staff should be reminded to practice social distancing at assembly points when undergoing fire drills.
At UK-Fire Risk Assessments, we can still help you with fire safety risk assessments in Nottingham, keeping in mind all the requirements of social distancing and taking into account alterations that you have made to your workplace.