As the UK follows Government guidance to respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic, it is possible that building owners, managers and staff are making changes to how premises are used, staffed and managed which could, if not fully balanced and considered, adversely impact on fire safety.

The following information, whilst not fully comprehensive, is intended to provide initial support and guidance to ensure residents, staff and premises remain safe throughout this challenging and rapidly evolving period.

Whilst control measures to protect against Covid 19 are crucial, fire safety should also remain a priority. With careful consideration it is possible to balance both hazards. Detailed guidance documents for different building uses (including buildings which have been temporarily re-purposed) are available on the UK government website.

 

Fire Safety advice for businesses restarting & premises reopening as Covid-19  restrictions are lifted

Many commercial premises are or will be making arrangements to return to work after a considerable period of lockdown. Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service (LFRS) have produced the following advice to help ensure workplaces are safe for returning employees and members of the public. Areas for your consideration include:

  • Fire Risk Assessments
  • Means of Escape
  • Fire Safety Systems & Equipment
  • Emergency Procedures & Staff Training
  • Maintaining social distancing at the fire assembly point during an evacuation or fire drill 
  • Arson & Deliberate Fire setting

For further detailed guidance can be found in a dedicated leaflet to help you and your business.

Useful information and advice can also be found via the link to Axa’s website

Fire Risk Assessments

It is important that, as changes are naturally made to control the spread of Covid 19, they are also considered in the context of your premises fire safety risk assessments to help manage and mitigate the risk of fire as much as possible. Significant changes should be identified and recorded. Consider asking some simple questions:

  • Risk Reduction: Have you taken all reasonable measures to reduce the risk of fire? E.g. isolating all non-essential equipment and machinery
  • Fire alarm systems: Is your fire alarm system in a good working order? – ensure it remains tested regularly to ensure this.
  • Interim measures: If you have had to implement some interim measures do all your staff know and understand why and what they are?
  • New or emerging risk: Has risk changed? Have things been put in place as a response to the situation that have, on reflection, increased fire risk? (eg Introduction of oxygen use / storage)
  • Vulnerable people: Are the most vulnerable receiving support and are PEEPS being conducted and reviewed to assess individual needs/ changes in their vulnerability? – who is caring for the vulnerable and can they still maintain it?

During this period we would advise you to review your fire risk assessment regularly.

Evacuation Plan

All staff; residents and visitors must be familiar with the evacuation plan (including all temporary and bank staff). Maintaining minimum staffing levels to undertake the evacuation plan is very important. Where appropriate, PEEPS must continue to be conducted and reviewed. Where it is appropriate and possible to do so, consider how you will maintain social distancing during an evacuation and at your assembly points.

Fire alarm procedures

Protecting your building users and Lancashire’s firefighters – limiting the spread

If your premises is providing accommodation for people who you are seeking to limit contact with the outside world (eg Nursing, Care, or Health) you may wish to consider adopting a version of the following process to reduce disruption, maintain fire safety and minimise the need for external persons (in this case Firefighters) to enter your premises:

  • If the fire alarm activates, commence your normal emergency procedures (this is essential).
  • Suitably trained staff should investigate the source of the alarm seeking to establish if it is a fire or a false alarm.
  • If, at any point during the investigation a fire is discovered or there is a smell of burning or smoke that cannot be accounted for, dial 999 and ask for the fire service immediately – stating that an evacuation is in progress.
  • If you have a predetermined attendance point for fire appliances which is different to the stated address (particularly if it’s a temporary one due to Covid) ensure this is explained to the Fire Control Operator.
  • If, following the investigation, you are certain that there is no fire, and no suspicion of a fire, then the emergency procedures can be cancelled. Under these circumstances, do not call the fire service.
  • The fire alarm system should be re-set by a competent member of staff and the fire alarm log book updated with a record of the event

To prevent any unnecessary disruption, please ensure that any known problems causing false fire alarms are immediately corrected, so that there is a high degree of confidence that fire alarms that do occur are genuine.

Further information can be found here on our website.

Evacuation Plan and Emergency Procedures

Protecting your building users and Lancashire’s firefighters – limiting the spread

When a building is on fire, following the evacuation plan is essential to keep people safe. However, unnecessary or poorly planned evacuations can increase the risk of Coronavirus transmission due to the movement of large numbers of people in close proximity.

The type of evacuation plan will depend on the use of your premises and your fire risk assessment. Evacuation plans should be kept under review to ensure the risk of Coronavirus transmission has been reduced as far as reasonably practicable.

You may wish to consider the use of a ‘dispersal system’. This is the process of organising your staff / residents into small groups, each briefed to assemble in a different pre-planned  location. For example one group may assemble in a car park, and another in a nearby park. This helps people to remain socially distanced. If you adopt this method a procedure will be needed to ensure everyone is accounted for. Ideally fire marshals should be responsible for this, with back-up marshals to provide cover if needed. If your premises is residential and contains people who are self-isolating due to a positive C19 test (or contact with someone who has) it is a good idea to pre-plan and allocate separate assembly points for these groups.

In all cases you should plan to leave space for attending fire appliances and have staff / marshals tasked ready to brief the Fire Incident Commander on arrival. This will ensure effective briefing, will minimise potential for spread, and will alert the Fire Incident Commander to any potential welfare needs which might emerge with a prolonged evacuation. Returning in to the premises after a fire / alarm should be undertaken in a staged approach to minimise potential for spread.

If you wish to discuss the above, or are a premises that receive regular attendance by LFRS and you have amended your  Evacuation plan and fire appliance rendezvous points, please contact protectionsupport@lancsfirerescue.org.uk

You will be contacted by a Business Safety Advisor who will discuss your plans and, if necessary, update information held on our fire appliances.

Fire Alarm and Other Essential Fire Safety Systems

Is your fire alarm system in a good working order?

It is important that fire alarm, emergency lighting and other fire safety systems (eg smoke control systems and sprinklers, where fitted) are maintained in good working condition at all times through the continuation of your normal testing regimes.

If your system/s are due maintenance by a qualified engineer, but you want to limit the number of visitors to your premises at this time, you may decide to delay the attendance of the engineer. 

If you take this action you must record it as a significant finding in the fire risk assessment and highlight the importance of the regular tests you then undertake to ensure the system/s remain fully functional

There may still be occasions when engineers / contractors have to attend your premises to maintain essential fire safety systems. You should plan ahead for this eventuality within your Business Continuity arrangements.

If you are uncertain whether maintenance schedules can safely be extended for the system/s in your premises you should contact a qualified fire safety system engineer. The following websites may assist:

Fire Doors

Buildings are fitted with self-closing fire doors to prevent smoke and fire from spreading from one compartment to another and to protect escape routes.

Emerging intelligence suggests some building users are wedging open self-closing fire doors as a Covid 19 control measure (intended to reduce the need to touch locks and door handles etc). Whilst this is understandable in the context of the coronavirus outbreak, it is essential that this hazard is balanced against the risk of uncontrolled spread of fire and smoke when a fire occurs.

If you have decided to wedge fire doors the practice must be fully considered in the fire risk assessment and suitable control measures put in place to ensure fire doors will be closed when needed (particularly in buildings providing sleeping accommodation or care for the vulnerable).

LFRS strongly advises against the practice of wedging fire doors and asks responsible persons to consider other control measures.

Buildings being put to temporary use/s

If your building is being used for a different purpose than the one it was originally intended for:

  • Ensure the Fire Risk Assessment is reviewed by a competent person and Fire Safety Guidance appropriate for the new use is consulted and applied.
  • Consider if sufficient fire safety provision is in place for the new use e.g. exit provision, fire alarm suitability, staff training.
  • If temporary staff and volunteers are using the building ensure they are aware of the emergency procedures.

Buildings Not In Use

If your building is temporarily closed there are some simple measures to safeguard against both accidental and deliberate fires.

  • Isolate utilities and machinery that are not required – but ensure your security/fire alarms are still operative.
  • Close all fire doors .
  • Don’t store combustible materials against the building and consider other measures to prevent arson
  • Where possible ask your local community to help keep an eye on your premises.
  • Buildings which are remaining open may need to use shared escape routes. Check with neighbours before securing shared escape routes.

More information is available on the Fire Protection Association who have published a free report building and business owners.

Blocks of Flats, Houses In Multiple Occupation and Student Accommodation

Fire safety within dwellings is an extremely important issue, especially in mixed use premises and where unrelated occupiers, who live independently from one another, share common areas of the same building.

Key considerations should be

  • Ensure that safety systems, including your fire alarm and smoke control systems are in a good working, are being tested appropriately and are maintained well.
  • Ensure that common areas and means of escape routes are clear from combustible items.
  • Ensure refuse compounds and other storage areas are not overflowing and are not stored immediately next to buildings – minimum distance of 6m should be maintained where possible.
  • Ensure that all occupiers are familiar with the building’s evacuation strategy 
  • Ensure that all fire safety features are maintained, i.e. fire doors are closed and not wedged open

Any change of strategy needs constant review and robust management

Coronavirus outbreak related guidance documents

Outdoor locations

The Fire Safety Order also covers outdoor locations. Several business types, including retail and licensed activities, have utilised outdoor spaces over the summer as a means to assist social distancing.

As winter is approaching Fire & Rescue Services in the UK have started to experience incidents caused by ill-considered use of portable electric and gas heaters.

  • Where heaters are present (both gas and electric), details of how their use will be the managed must be reflected in the fire risk assessment.
  • Consideration should also be given to the proximity of any hand-sanitising gel or other combustible material in relation to a source of prolonged heat impingement
  • Storage and use of LPG cylinders must be included in the fire risk assessment and codes of practice applicable to your premises type must be followed.
  • Further guidance is available in the Dangerous Substances section of the Fire Safety Guidance Document applicable for your building type: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fire-safety-law-and-guidance-documents-for-business
  • And in more detailed guidance:https://www.liquidgasuk.org/resources/information-sheets/user-information-sheets
  • If you are in any doubt about how to store and use LPG safely seek expert advice from the supplier.

Get in touch

Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service has implemented its business continuity planning arrangements and many staff are now working remotely, however will be picking up emails. If you wish to raise a concern or raise a question with our Fire Safety Protection team you can email ProtectionSupport@lancsfirerescue.org.uk

 

National Fire Chiefs Council – Frequently Asked Questions  

Arson and Fire-Safety-Advice-For-Schools during Covid19 – Schools may also find our arson vulnerability risk assessment document useful.