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COVID-19 fire safety

The following is provided as guidance to assist employers and responsible persons (RPs) as determined in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to maintain fire safety precautions on their premises during the current Covid-19 crisis. It is only valid for the duration of the current situation after which it should be disregarded.

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Review Fire Risk Assessments

Whether your business has decided to remain open or not, it may be experiencing changes in risk.  As such, it will be necessary for RPs to arrange for the premises Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) to be reviewed. If any doubt exists, then a competent fire risk assessor should be contacted for guidance and advice.

It may also be advisable to contact your insurers when considering changes to your risk assessment and any mitigation.

 

Closed Premises

Even during periods when a building has been locked down, it is still important to consider the following:

In order to reduce the risk of arson, ensure premises are left secure, removing any external sources of fuel or ignition that are likely to cause fire spread.

If your premises has a shared means of escape (MOE), securing your premises during the current crisis must not affect the MOE from other businesses within the same building that have remained open, residential buildings or where wayleave arrangements are in place.

It is also important that current fire safety measures are suitably maintained.  All internal fire precautions such as fire doors should be kept closed at all times.

The testing and maintenance of fire detection and alarm systems should continue where possible and safe to do so.  This should be prioritised by risk, i.e. a fire in a shop, (now closed) affecting the residents in the flat above or a fire alarm system in a multi-occupied building where some of the occupants are still operating.

 

Scaling the risk

Businesses that remain open during the current crisis may experience increased demand, in which case the RP should consider the following:

The premises fire risk assessment must record any significant changes in working processes.

Consider the possible impact of increased stock and storage requirements.

Parts of the premises may be locked and taken out of use during the current crisis.  The fire risk assessment should take account of increases in the level of risk caused by these changes or measure to mitigate infection control.

Fire safety training of staff should continue as required and include any temporary staff or those that may have been drafted in from another branch to assist with any increased demand.

Any reductions in staff due to sickness must be considered e.g. the ability of reduced staff numbers to operate processes safely or to meet the needs of the existing fire evacuation procedures.

 

Vulnerable People

Those that employ or that care for those classed as vulnerable people must consider the effects of the virus on the ability of the vulnerable to escape a premises in the event of a fire.

Employers should continue to produce and review Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs), this is especially relevant in the care industry where residents may rely on staff to perform evacuations.

 

Simultaneous Evacuation & Waking Watches

This guidance has been produced in order to support employers and responsible persons (RPs) as determined in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 that due to Covid-19 have decided to temporarily change from a stay put evacuation policy in favour of simultaneous evacuation.  Due to the dynamic nature of the current situation, this guidance is under constant review and is only valid while this situation continues.

Due to changes in working practices and potential reduction in staff numbers, the RP may have made the decision to move from a stay put policy to that of simultaneous evacuation.  Where the need for a waking watch has been identified, the RP will need to ensure it has been implemented and maintained in order to ensure the viability of the premises for continued residential occupation.

Typically, firefighters are called to a larger number of domestic fires during evenings and weekends. However, during the current crisis, there are likely to be increased numbers of people staying at home due to the ongoing lockdown arrangements, some of whom may be vulnerable or unwell.  This may increase the potential for more domestic fires, the common causes of which are cooking, smoking, electrical items and heating sources.  For this reason it is important that people remain vigilant to the safety of themselves and others within the property.

 

Key points to consider as the RP,

Where one is not already in place, RPs should consider installing a common alarm system (one that sounds throughout the property) to support the move from a stay put policy to simultaneous evacuation.

Further guidance on simultaneous evacuation can be found here 

 Every effort should be made to maintain the waking watch where it is required and in use.

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) consider that staff providing a waking watch function should be considered key workers. Additional guidance on key working can be found by clicking here

Be proactive - premises with a waking watch should review their fire risk assessment (FRA) and be in regular contact with those carrying out the waking watch and the residents.

RPs should consider the resilience of their waking watch arrangements and have suitable contingency plans in place should their existing arrangements fail.

Those operating a waking watch should ensure that all personnel involved have received the government guidance on social distancing and that there are adequate facilities available to ensure social distancing and hand washing routines.Advice on social distancing and other Covid-19 related subjects can be found here

Difficulties maintaining a waking watch

Where difficulties are encountered following the guidance above, there may be alternatives for maintaining the provision.  These should only be adopted for an interim period and must be subject to regular review.

The RP should:

  • Make all effort to maintain the waking watch
  • Consider contingency plans in the event of staff illness
  • Consider resilience for existing arrangements, such as 3rd party contractors where necessary, alternative providers or mutual support from local partnerships.
  • Advise the local fire & rescue service to any changes to the waking watch provision so that the appropriate operational response can be considered in the event of an emergency
  • Consult the local fire and rescue service for further advice
  • Where appropriate, consider re-locating vulnerable residents to a place of greater safety
  • Provide an increased flow of information to residents in relation to any changes in the fire evacuation strategy and existing fire safety provisions
  • Provide and communicate comprehensive information on the actions to be taken in the event of a fire,
  • Call 999 at once and leave the building
  • Be prepared to get out, have clothes, coats and shoes immediately available.

The full NFCC guidance document can be found here and the 26 August update here

 

Alterations to Buildings

Actions such as wedging open doors to reduce the need to touch door handles or sealing or locking doors to prevent air flow will have an impact on fire precautions and could compromise the building's fire safety strategy.  It is vital that such measures are considered in the premises FRA and the building's fire strategy is amended accordingly in order to maintain a safe environment.

Other buildings may be repurposed such as a previously low risk warehouse now undertaking essential work to manufacture medical items or packing food parcels.  Changes to the building may have occurred without the benefit of the appropriate consultation.  RPs must ensure that a thorough FRA has been completed to identify risk and implement any mitigation measures that may be required.

Any FRAs should be completed or reviewed by a competent person, such as a suitably trained fire risk assessor.

 

Approach and Further Guidance

Those premises that are continuing to operate during the current crisis are still subject to the conditions of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the provisions have not been removed or reduced during this time.      

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