Over the last two years, COVID-19 has shattered the status-quo of office life by sending most of the country to their homes for remote working. While the threat of COVID is still present in newer forms such as the Omicron variant, the majority of the restrictions have now ended and health and safety guidance from the government is encouraging businesses to return to the workplace when possible.
This means fire prevention is more important than ever, yet some businesses still lack the basic fire hazard training and discipline to follow it, which may be endangering businesses across the country. For example, interior fire doors are all-too-often left open for “fresh air”, entirely negating their purpose of stopping fires in their tracks before they can cause more serious harm. Given the increased focus on infection control following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners and facilities managers must pay particular attention to this, as staff are even more likely to leave fire doors open to facilitate ventilation throughout the facility.
According to government figures, incidences of fires in the workplace had increased six-fold over the decade leading up to March 2020, and therefore, it is clear that workplace fire safety is an ever-growing concern. But where should businesses be focusing their efforts?
As businesses welcome workers back to offices, here are 5 tips for how businesses can prevent fire hazards, creating a safer environment for all.
Fire alarms are the first defence in a fire emergency, which means they’re an essential piece of equipment that must be maintained or replaced when necessary. Since many workplaces have been left unattended due to remote working, it’s now the perfect time to test fire alarms with workers being encouraged to go back to sites.
While testing alarms promotes good fire safety, it’s also a legal requirement to ensure fire alarms are working properly. The law states that fire alarms in workspaces must be regularly tested to ensure they work as required. According to a survey conducted by JLA, it is said that just 20% of businesses in the UK only get their fire alarms tested once a year, which is a troubling statistic.
Fire alarms must be tested regularly in order to determine that they work when needed, aren’t susceptible to false alarms, emit the proper noise and can be heard by those in the area for their own safety. Failing to have them frequently tested ultimately puts lives at risk.
Fire safety training can take many different forms, such as what to do in a genuine emergency, the fire fighting procedure, or a false alarm procedure. What to do in a genuine fire emergency scenario is arguably one of the most important things someone needs to know when working somewhere. In order to preserve lives, it’s crucial that everyone knows information such as where emergency exits are located, how to behave during an emergency, and where to gather when outside the premises
Employers have a legal responsibility to train employees on these procedures.
Fire training is also important and safe workplaces will have fire extinguishers and fire blankets on site for employees to use. Knowing where these are located and how to operate them in an emergency can help prevent small fires from spreading across the workplace and causing any significant damage.
False fire alarms can also occur from a number of sources such as the alarm itself having a fault, unnecessary smoke in the building whether it be from people or appliances, or even hot steam in the air. While it is obviously a priority to prevent a false alarm, it is important to still have a procedure in place to determine if it is a false fire alarm, or if action does need to be taken. Training staff on the dangers of false alarms and how to prevent and react to them, as well as testing a facilities’ fire alarm’s responses, will maintain good health and safety measures and ensure that the workday isn’t jeopardised by a preventable mistake.
Consider the storage of waste and other materials
Safe storage of waste and other flammable materials can help to prevent the spread of fire if one breaks out. Highly combustible material and recyclables, such as paper and cardboard, should be stored away from places of potential ignition, such as heaters or electronics. Keeping these materials in a designated safe storage area will reduce the risk of them catching alight and causing a fire. Any build-up of these materials is also dangerous, so storage levels should be checked regularly and cleared when possible.
Keeping the office or facility clean is another way that fires can be prevented. Rubbish bins, especially those containing paper, should be emptied when they get full, and regular dusting or cleaning also promotes good fire safety practice, especially dust build-up around electrical outlets.
Faulty electrical equipment is one of the leading causes of fire in the workplace, so it’s important for businesses to keep their equipment organised and maintained to reduce the risk of them developing a dangerous fault.
Loose wires and cables are the main problem, especially when they’re tangled up with other wiring. Businesses should check areas where wires may have crossed with each other, such as under or behind computer desks and de-tangle if necessary. It’s also a good idea to check the wires for any tears on the outside of the cable. If you can see any of the copper interior, they should be replaced immediately.
Plug sockets are another offender of faulty electrical equipment. In a busy office or facility, it’s likely that a lot of machines and appliances will need to all be running at once, so it’s even more likely that extension leads will be used to keep everything switched on. While they have their uses, they use a lot of energy, which means they can also generate a lot of heat, which can cause a fire if left unattended. Always switch plugs off overnight or when something isn’t in use. Unplugging certain appliances that may not be used often is also a good idea.
Emergency fire exit doors are also a vital piece of equipment, which means they must be treated properly to ensure that they work as intended. Does the fire door open and close when needed? Are they easily seen and obvious as fire exits? Is it easy to get to them?
Fire exit doors must always be shut properly when not needed and should never be propped open to ventilate a room. If the door won’t close properly, there is a fault that must be addressed. Additionally, they must be accessible in an emergency. Never use the space in front or behind the door for storage, have staff stood on either side, or block the door in any way. Ensuring that the area surrounding it is clear of obstruction at all times should be a continuous priority.
Fire safety, which has always been a business-critical imperative, is an increasingly important consideration for businesses in 2022, as working patterns move away from remote working. Returning to normal workplaces can be a challenge, but making sure that these sites are fire safe is something all business owners and staff members need to be aware of.
By testing fire safety systems regularly, refreshing any fire safety training and having all the correct safety measures in place, businesses can rest assured that they can safely welcome all employees back to the workplace as safely as possible.
To book a Fire Risk Assessment for your premises give EC Safety Solutions a call on 0800 1930246 or email: [email protected]