Does Corona Virus Mean You Need to Review Your Fire Risk Assessment?
As more of the UK workforce start to return to work as part of the easing of lockdown it is clear that employers and staff alike are needing to adjust to the ‘new normal’
As an employer you will have had to consider new ways of working and potentially to have rearranged your premises to allow your staff to return. It is important to consider the impact these changes will have had on the risk of fire or accident. While you may be up to date with your fire risk assessments, it may be that things have changed so significantly that you need to start from scratch.
Some aspects to consider are as follows:
Working hours – have you staggered start and finish times to ensure that a limited number of staff are present at particular points during the day? If so, have you thought about whether there is a responsible person present during these extended hours should a fire break out?
Entrances and Exits have, in some cases, had to be identified as one way only. For example, where staff previously arrived and left through one door, you may have had to specify one door for arriving and another, separate door for departures. In this case you may need to change your fire escape plan and ensure that all staff are aware of the changes.
Many offices have found it necessary to move desks further apart to allow for social distancing. This may mean that there are insufficient plugs available for computer and other office equipment which could result in sockets being overloaded increasing the risk of fire. If cables are trailing across open floor space this will increase the risk of tripping/injury in case of evacuation.
Your fire risk assessment will have previously covered the risk to any vulnerable people. The changes required to enable social distancing could mean a change to the working environment for these people. It may be that they are now located in a separate, individual office, or that they will be located further away from fire escapes than before. If this is the case it will be necessary to review your fire risk assessment.
Some workplaces may consider propping doors open in an attempt to reduce the risk of staff touching them. Fire doors are an important fire safety measure and play a role in reducing the spread of fire, propping them open will stop them performing this important role. Therefore, they should only be kept open by automatic hold-open devices that are specifically designed for this purpose.
It is possible that members of staff that would normally deal with fire safety matters have been unable to return to work due to needing to self-isolate, or because they are still furloughed. In this case it is vital that alternative people are identified to be responsible and are given the necessary training.
Finally, should a fire break out it is normal practice for all staff to evacuate the building on hearing the fire alarm. Particularly for large organisations this could result in social distancing being impacted when everyone leaves the building and makes their way to the assembly point.
It is clear that there is a great deal to consider in identifying the best way forward. If you are unsure how to approach your fire risk assessments in these challenging times or would like some guidance or advice, please get in touch. We are experienced in all aspects of fire safety and would be very happy to help.