2017 made us more aware of what can go wrong in a fire. Whether we are responsible for multiple-occupation housing, care homes or workplaces, now is a good time to review our fire management processes. Here’s the top ten of fire precautions to check.
Post-Grenfell, many buildings with “satisfactory” FRAs have been found to be unsafe. Is your FRA good enough? Whilst there are currently no statutory accreditation requirements for fire risk assessors, you should check that your risk assessor has qualifications and experience relevant to the type of building being assessed. Have all the recommendations in the previous FRA been closed out, with evidence? How often is your FRA reviewed? The latest advice is to review at least annually, and when anything changes. For example, the installation of computer systems often involves drilling holes for cabling, leaving gaping breaches through which a fire can spread hidden inside cupboards, in wall or ceiling voids or under floor boards.
Is a stay-put, phased or all-out approach to evacuation the most appropriate for the building and the people? In these days of terrorist attacks, how would you evacuate people if there was a bomb-threat, or a gun-man in the building? Do you need a silent evacuation process? If so, how would that work?
Are there sufficient staff to manage an evacuation safely? Consider what happens if key players are absent. As well as fire wardens, do you need extra staff at exits (to prevent intruders coming into the building as you leave), to support disabled evacuation, and to co‑ordinate at the assembly point? Do you have records of appropriate initial and refresher training?
Check that fire action notices and evacuation maps are up-to-date, and are available where they are needed. Evacuation maps should show people where they are, and give them at least two options for escape. At your next drill, get people to try an exit route they haven’t used before.
Find someone to test your contractor and visitor induction process – like a mystery shopper. When they arrive on site, are they given all the right information? Visitors and contractors should be told who to contact if they discover a fire, how to sound the alarm and where to go if they hear the alarm, as well as information about relevant non-fire hazards.
Can you show that these have been inspected, tested and maintained by competent people at the frequency required? Some organisations think that the annual service of the alarm system is sufficient, but alarm systems should be tested regularly, making use of alarm call points so that the whole system is tested in between services. Also, have you checked that alarms can be heard across the whole workplace?
Whether pressurised, automatic or powered, ventilation systems for removing smoke during a fire must be checked regularly. When prompted by a new safety-aware tenant, one landlord checked their smoke vents for the first time in years – to discover they were dirty and blocked, and would not have cleared smoke from the main escape route when needed. If you have a fire suppression system (such as sprinklers) is this maintained? Kings Cross underground station had a sprinkler system in 1987 when a fire killed 31 people. But station staff hadn’t been trained how to use it. Make sure staff understand how to use any of the systems provided for fire safety.
Do you have documentation for emergency lighting, showing expectation of how long it will operate without power, and that it has been tested appropriately? I’ve come across emergency lighting that has only ever had a flick test. If regular full run-down tests aren’t performed, you won’t know if it will fail in 5 minutes, long before everyone is clear.
Are they in good condition? Can you demonstrate that they met appropriate standards at installation, or if repaired since? The best fire door is ineffective if inexpertly installed, modified or repaired. Third party certification schemes are available for companies fitting and maintaining fire doors.
To make all these checks easier next time put everything on line. Scan in reports, checklists, guarantees and service records if they are available only on paper. If you haven’t already got a single repository for your fire safety documents, assemble it all in one place, ideally in an online management system, so that several people can access it, and you can quickly see your fire safety gaps.
At Effective Software, our health and safety management software aims to help you in your fire management processes. See more about our Risk Assessments module, or why not request a demo from one of our product experts. They will run through our Risk Assessment Software and tailor a solution to your specific needs.