As businesses focus, quite rightly, on staying COVID-secure and meeting the many challenges that come with trying to run an organisation during a pandemic, it can be easy to let your everyday facilities management fall down your To Do list.

Here, we’ve pulled together a list of key mistakes you could be making when it comes to fire safety as other challenges take priority, different restrictions come and go, and day-to-day operations take a back seat to meeting Coronavirus measures.

1. Not staying fire safety compliant

It’s vital that you adhere to the Regulatory Reform (fire safety) Order 2005 and carry out a Fire Risk Assessment for your site, document risks, and follow through with any works or procedures the Fire Risk Assessment highlights. This should be done ideally every 12 months, but you may need to carry out more regular audits as things change in your buildings due to Coronavirus directives – it’s vital that you take into account reduced employee numbers in the premises which may mean less trained fire wardens on site, and fire procedures should be reviewed with this in mind.

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2. Not Having an adequate Fire Alarm system

Whether installed to protect a building (P categories) or lives (L categories) a fire alarm system can keep your business, staff & people safe. 80% of business fail to reopen sufficiently after a major fire or go out of business all-together.

Nobody wants to be responsible for someone losing their life when it could have been prevented by installing the appropriate & adequate fire alarm system. Doing so will also mean that your building and the people in the building are protected and you’re complying to current legislations & regulations in relation to fire.

3. Not Having Fire protection equipment serviced

Failing to stay up to date with service visits means you aren’t complying with the Regulatory Reform (fire safety) Order 2005 (check out paragraph 17) and therefore you are falling foul of legislation and could either be shut down, fined, prosecuted or all three.

It’s imperative that you know that your fire protection equipment is in good working order meaning that the premises but more importantly life is protected.

4. Not testing your Fire Alarm weekly

A weekly test of the fire alarm should be carried out using a different call point each time as best practice. Setting a specific time and day to carry out the test, for example at 10am every Wednesday morning, would be an effective way to make sure everyone is comfortable with processes, and avoid any panic if a real emergency hits.

5. Not carrying out regular fire alarm drills 

You should carry out a fire alarm drill at least every 12 months, however, depending on your fire risk assessment this may be required every three months. It is important that people know what to do in the event of an actual fire at the premises – especially if the layout has changed across your premises due to Coronavirus measures.

Allowances should also be made for shift work, as every employee should know the procedures and where the fire assembly points are.

6. Not using a Fire Log Book

Your Responsible Person for fire safety should keep a record of every weekly test, false alarm activation and fire alarm activation, as well as documenting when fire protection equipment was last serviced and maintained.

7. Not having Fire Zone and ‘As Fitted’ charts

All sites should have an ‘as fitted’ and zone chart drawing to comply with regulations and legislation. These can help the fire brigade to quickly identify which part of the building a fire has broken out in. Plus, in a false alarm activation they can assist the fire warden for your site in knowing where it is.

8. Not having Fire Alarm Folder

Having a fire alarm folder is useful, as you can keep your fire risk assessment, fire alarm design, specification, commission records and log book all in one place. This means any auditor, fire risk assessors, fire companies or fire wardens who need this information can find it quickly when needed – saving valuable admin time and helping ensure your alarms are always up-to-date and fit for purpose.

9. Not Keeping corridors and escape routes clear

Blocked corridors and escape routes can have disastrous consequences. Not only does clutter pose a fire risk in itself, it also puts people in danger as they evacuate – and of course can prevent evacuation altogether in an emergency.

It’s also extremely important to check all final fire doors are functional and unlocked in case of emergency (while keeping internal fire doors closed in order for them to serve their compartmentation purpose)..

Read our guide on how to avoid fire hazards in the workplace >>

10. Not having Automatic Opening Vents  

AOV smoke ventilation through automatic roof vents in a residential, schools, student, care home or hotel can help reduce the impact of smoke inhalation and also help in the prevention or spreading fire. Installation depends on building regulations and the findings of your fire risk assessment, so it’s important to speak to an expert about the function and suitability of smoke ventilation units in your specific premises.

Learn more about how AOV systems can protect people and premises >>

At JLA, we can carry out one-off checks, or provide ongoing service contracts for complete peace of mind regardless of Coronavirus restrictions. We can also complete fire risk assessments to give you a full picture of the risks in your premises.

If your business is being forced to close during the Coronavirus lockdown, it’s still vital to maintain the servicing plan that’s already set for fire equipment across your premises – or put one in place if you currently don’t stick to a ‘compliance’ calendar. It’s especially important to make sure your annual alarm or extinguisher checks are still completed if due.

While it may be tempting to delay planned service visits until the lockdown lifts, we’re urging our customers to think ahead, switch to a ‘ready to re-open’ mindset, and take the opportunity to tick off all the fire tasks that might otherwise be difficult to address when you’re fully operational and focusing on day-to-day priorities. Failing to complete certain inspections while ‘hibernating’ could mean you’re not meeting legal requirements when you get back to business later in the year, and allowing service schedules to slip could put you on the back foot when the time comes to welcome employees and visitors again.

The maintenance and testing of the fire detection and alarm system should be continued where it is possible and safe to do so. This should be prioritised based on the risks identified by the responsible person and their contractors.

National Fire Chiefs Council – Advice for businesses (COViD-19 Protection)

7 ways to stay fire-safe during lockdown and beyond…

Review your Fire Risk Assessment

A fire risk assessment should ideally be carried out every 12 months, but even if you’ve updated yours fairly recently you may need to complete another based on closing your premises (or remaining open in a different or restricted capacity).

Changes to working practices, alterations made to the premises and staff numbers should be your main focus areas, but all equipment should be checked too especially if inspections and servicing was postponed during the previous lockdown.

Can I do my own fire risk assessment?

Audit your fire alarms

Has your fire alarm and overall detection system been tested and properly inspected this year? Have you kept up with service schedules in spite of the disruption already encountered since March?

Regardless of Coronavirus challenges, maintaining regular inspections at specific periods and intervals is a requirement under British Standards which informs your compliance under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Protect your premises from arson

If your buildings are going to be unoccupied during lockdown, securing all doors and windows as well as gates and fences should be a priority, as should removing any sources of fuel or ignition which could cause fire to spread.

Blog: How to avoid fire hazards in the workplace

Review your emergency lighting

While evacuation won’t be a major concern during lockdown itself if your business is closed, extra downtime during November provides the ideal opportunity to make sure everything is in place ready for when staff and customers return.

Again, a full fire risk assessment can help you identify and remove risk for post-lockdown operation, but the main consideration should be whether the emergency lighting you have is suitable, sufficient and maintained in accordance with BS EN 50172 / BS 5266-8.

Count and check your extinguishers

Are there a suitable number of fire extinguishers available in required locations? It may seem like you have too many during lockdown, but it’s important to maintain a plan for full occupancy, so you can return to business as usual quickly as soon as the government gives you the green light.

Fire extinguisher maintenance is essential to ensure your extinguishers are ready for use in an emergency situation in accordance with BS 5306-3, so while customers and employees may be absent from your buildings, it’s a good time to invite fire safety experts into them to assess and improve your processes.

Inspect your fire doors

Fire doors can soon let you down if they’re not maintained regularly and kept in good working order. During lockdown, with no through traffic, it’s a good opportunity to check all doors are fitted properly – and you’ll be able to replace them where necessary ready for December without disrupting escape routes which would otherwise be blocked during normal business operations.

Keep all fire doors closed

Fire doors must be kept shut if your building is not in use (and also when you re-open), in order to maintain effective compartmentation – and compliance. Legally, public buildings must have ‘properly installed and maintained fire doors’. Using pots, weights, wedges and door stops to prevent them from closing fully renders fire doors instantly redundant, and therefore illegal.

Switch electrical items off (if possible)

It’s important, wherever you can, to switch off all unnecessary electrical appliances and remove plugs from their sockets. Appliances such as fridges and freezers may be left on, but all devices and equipment that is not essential during lockdown should be disconnected.

Service wet / dry risers & sprinklers

Have you recently had your wet and dry risers inspected and maintained? BS 9990 requires any dry risers installed to be tested under pressure annually with a visual inspection every six months. You should also replace any worn or missing parts including washers, straps, padlocks and gaskets.

Your fire sprinkler System (including heads) should also be well maintained if fitted, and inspected at least once a year.

At JLA, we can carry out one-off checks, or provide ongoing service contracts for complete peace of mind regardless of Coronavirus restrictions. We can also complete fire risk assessments to give you a full picture of the risks in your premises, as well as a documented plan for removing and reducing those risks in line with Fire Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 compliance obligations.

Book a fire safety visit