Nobody wants to think about the damage and disruption a fire can cause, but for many people, particularly employers, it is a legal requirement to have an appropriate fire safety plan in place.

Fire damage can be devastating to a business, resulting in huge financial loss, delays in work, and perhaps even serious injury or death. That’s why creating a fire escape plan suitable for your business is so important, and something we aim to help with in this guide.

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What is a fire safety plan?

Before starting to create a fire evacuation plan, you might be wondering what actually defines a ‘plan’. Essentially, in terms of fire safety, this should be a formal document that every company has, and all employees should be familiar with.

Most importantly, while it should cover a plan for all aspects of fire protection and prevention, the document should specifically outline the escape procedure to be followed in the event of fires in the workplace. It should also contain information such as exit routes and where the nearest meeting spot is, in order to prevent serious injury or even death of employees should a blaze break out.

Why are fire escape plans important?

Firstly, it is a legal requirement for business owners to have a fire escape plan in place and there could be lots of implications for those who are found not to have one. Equally, having a suitable plan will greatly reduce the risk of members of staff or visitors and customers from becoming injured in the event of a fire, by ensuring everyone knows what action should be taken.

Who is responsible for writing a fire safety plan?

Depending on the type of premises the plan relates to, different people may be responsible. In many cases, it will be an employer, but it could also be the owner of the building, the landlord, or anyone else who is in control of the premises.

How to create a fire safety & evacuation plan

We understand that business managers and owners may struggle to know where to start when it comes to preparing a fire escape plan – especially with so many other things to think about in the current Coronavirus crisis. That’s why we have created a comprehensive guide outlining the process step by step.

Of course, if you don’t have the time, expertise or confidence to create a full plan, you can also get in touch with JLA’s experts for more advice or to book services such as fitting call points or planning and installing new fire doors.

What should a fire safety plan include?

Fire safety plans should cover a number of different steps as outlined below – these don’t have to be completed in order, but all should be considered.

1. Ensure your Responsible Person knows what they’re responsible for

Both the Regulatory Reform (fire Safety) Order 2005 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 state that the Responsible Person in charge of a non-domestic building must ensure that the building is maintained to provide a safe working environment for staff and visitors to the site. All fire doors,fire dampers, AOV alarm systems and suppression systems that are part of the fire strategy you create must be maintained and regularly tested to ensure the fire integrity of the building at all times.

IMPORTANT: Coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions are not an excuse for non-compliance, so it’s especially important to ensure maintenance schedules and legally required inspections do not lapse even if your premises is closed.

2. Carry out a fire safety risk assessment

The first step in creating your escape plan should be to carry out a fire risk assessment, which is a legal requirement for all non-domestic premises. This must also be formally documented for companies with five or more workers. It’s important to add here that you should only complete this assessment if you are a ‘competent person’ – if you don’t have the time, knowledge or confidence to do the audit yourself, you should employ the services of a third party, certified fire safety partner.

At this point, think about things such as limiting the areas where smoking is permitted and take into account the dangers of potential fire hazards such as cooking equipment. It’s also vital to look at any fire safety equipment you already have such as extinguishers, signage and lighting to identify any requirements for replacement or repair.

3. Set out a compartmentation strategy

Compartmentation is key to successful and compliant passive fire protection. By identifying fire ‘barrier’ zones, and installing fire resistant doors and walls in the right places, you can prevent fire, smoke and harmful fumes spreading from one area of your building to another, and buy precious time for evacuation if a blaze ever breaks out.

4. Put a regular service schedule in place

It is also a legal requirement for businesses to have regular inspections and checks for key equipment including alarms, lighting and doors to ensure it is safe. Routine maintenance – ideally as part of a contracted plan – should be in place for all fire doors, alarms, and emergency lighting systems to make sure they are always working as they should be and annual or six-monthly checks do not lapse.

5. Train all Responsible Persons – and other staff

Part of an escape plan should be properly outlining evacuation procedures and drills. The right third party fire partner will be able to help businesses plan these protocols, and also provide training, both online and offline, to the appropriate members of the business.

It’s a good idea to assign a ‘monitor’ or steward for each floor of the building to make sure everyone gets out safely, as well as delegating tasks such as calling the fire brigade to one trustworthy person.

6. Create an emergency evacuation plan

It is crucial to note and share all potential escape routes in the escape plan, as chances are one of them could become blocked in the event of an emergency. Where possible, map out escape routes for each floor, taking care to note the location of the nearest fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and the meeting point. Consider innovations like AOV systems too, which can keep your stairwells and corridors clear of smoke and fumes in emergencies.

Another part of your evacuation plan should include regular hazard checks which ensure that your building is as safe as possible generally, as well as being clear for efficient evacuation if the worst happens.

7. Practice your fire escape plan

Planning the emergency escape route is just the first step – it is equally important to practice the plan regularly to ensure all members of staff are familiar with what to do if they hear the smoke detectors going off. Then, if the real thing ever does happen, everyone is more likely to be able to act quickly whilst remaining calm.

Again, training is recommended periodically to ensure the plan is followed as ‘second nature’ – especially if your business operations and/or staff have changed due to Coronavirus.

8. Put preventative measures in place

Of course, planning escape routes and exits is important, but taking steps to actively reduce the risk of a fire breaking out is equally crucial. Ensure smoke alarms are tested regularly, check fire extinguishers to ensure they are suitable and up-to-date, and schedule regular inspections and checks for key equipment in your calendar. This way, the risk of having to call the fire department is sure to be greatly reduced.

Ideally, a service contract should be in place to take away any need to ‘manually’ remember to do these things, but if you don’t want to commit to such a plan, the next best approach would be to schedule in regular one-off site surveys for the next 12 months.

If you need support in any aspect of fire safety planning, contact our experts today. From fire risk assessments and one-off safety audits to installation and breakdown cover, we can take care of all your safety and compliance obligations.

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