Very many people work in an office. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that, after retail shops, more people work in an office than in any other sort of premises. Now that the government is urging people to stop working from home and return to the office, it probably won’t be all that long before they are back up to full strength.
As with other buildings where people work in close contact with each other, it is essential to take all the necessary steps in order to protect health and safety, and in particular the risk of fire breaking out.
The primary cause of fire in offices is faulty electrical equipment. This can be because equipment is not used correctly, electric cables can get damaged, and in some cases the equipment breaks down as a simple result of age. This is one reason why it is essential to have electrical equipment in the office PAT tested on a regular basis. Although there are no requirements for PAT testing frequency, there are recommendations.
In offices, Class 1 equipment, including stationery and IT equipment should be tested every 48 months. Moveable equipment with extension leads and portable equipment should be tested every 24 months. Handheld equipment should be tested every 12 months as it is more likely to become damaged. Equipment that is used a lot, such as photocopiers, should be tested every 12 months.
Other major causes of fire in office buildings are things such as paper, card, and other flammable materials being stored incorrectly, such as under desks or next to electrical equipment. Accidents can also be caused in team kitchens by electrical equipment being left unattended while it is in use.
You May Have Altered The Layout Of Your Office
As a result of Covid, many businesses have altered the offices around, set up partitions between desks, and made larger spaces between them. Most offices also have hand sanitiser stations as well. This could have an effect on escape routes, so it is essential to check that there are still clear ways to escape in the case of fire.
In fact, if you have had everyone working from home for several months, it is vital to carry out a fire risk assessment when they are coming back. The law requires you to do this and to review it on a regular basis anyway, and if your office has been closed it may be that you have missed checking your assessment when you would normally have done.
If you work in a large office building it may be the case that there are several other businesses in it as well, and if this is so it is also essential that you work hand in hand with those other businesses, especially when considering escape routes. While you may not have blocked any escape route from your part of the building, other businesses may have done exactly that without giving it proper thought. Taller buildings, in particular, are more difficult to escape from in the event of a fire, so special care must be taken to ensure escape routes are still free.
You also need to test your fire alarm system. If you have been away from the office for weeks or months, it may be that you have missed out on your regular fire alarm test, or it may just need testing anyway having been out of use for a long period. You should also run a fire drill so that your employees are up to speed, especially if you have made alterations to the layout of the office. You also need to ensure that fire doors are maintained and remember that they must never be wedged open!
It is also a good idea to have all your employees familiar with the fire extinguishers that you have, and how to use them, rather than just your fire wardens. Your employees should also be instructed not to overload plug sockets, and also to switch off all electrical equipment at the socket at the end of every day.