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With commercial fires up 46% during lockdown, it’s crucial to understand and become more aware of the damage fire risks can have on a business when left undetected and unresolved. Fires can be a devastating experience for all, resulting in irreversible physical damage and, arguably more importantly, the unseen destruction of jobs, livelihoods, families and homes.

While the risk of fire can never be completely eradicated, there are things you can do to help minimize the problem. More than simply guarding against a worst-case scenario, this is about making sure your business is as robust as possible. In other words, ensuring that you have in place effective protection long before a 911 call is required.

Returning to work

Evaluate how things may have changed since COVID-19

As businesses return to their premises, it’s a good idea to evaluate how things may have changed since COVID-19. Many premises remain either closed entirely, open for reduced hours or are operating with reduced staff. Even if you completed a fire risk assessment just before the pandemic began, it may need revisiting in light of these recent changes. For example, the amount of stock put into storage or the number of people using the building may have changed, and new risk factors may have emerged. Have employees trained as fire marshals been furloughed since the pandemic or unable to return to work? Any one of these factors being changed will require you to fill out a new fire risk assessment.

If on the other hand, if your building remains unused – due to COVID-19 or other factors – it’s important to realize your responsibilities. Empty, unmanned buildings are at increased risk of break-ins and arson, failure to comply with best practice can put you at risk of insurance invalidation:

  • Ensure that all keys to the building are accounted for and recovered. If any are missing, it is highly recommended that the locks are changed as soon as possible  
  • Apart from essential services such as lighting or fire and security systems, disconnect all services and utilities at the perimeter of the building
  • In winter, maintain temperatures at or above 4ºC to avoid frost damage to any sprinkler system or other essential water services. Drain down all tanks except those which specifically need to be used
  • Remove as much combustible material as you can, especially litter and scattered paperwork
  • Secure letter flaps, install an anti-arson metal box inside and redirect mail

Given the variety of business premises it’s difficult to say what’s likely to be a cause of fire in any one situation – which is why it’s essential to have an up-to-date fire risk assessment carried out by someone who can provide a more in-depth assessment aligned with your ways of working. Getting this done will give you a good understanding of the potential causes of fire in your workplace and is a good place to start for any business owner.

protection methods

If your premises are largely empty due to COVID-19 restrictions, you must ensure you have a protection method in place that isn’t primarily dependent upon people, such as fire extinguishers or fire hoses. It is crucial to install and test a monitored smoke detection system or automatic fire sprinklers which can help protect the premises whilst it remains vacant.

While you can never have too many systems in place to protect your business from fire, there are a few key ones to consider:

  1. Fire Extinguishers
    There are different fire extinguishers for different types of fire, your fire risk assessment will contain information on the ignition and fuel risks that are in your building and you should ensure that the correct type of device is selected, either mounted on the wall or a special stand with a label that shows the types of fire the extinguisher is suitable for and basic operating instructions.
  2. Sprinkler Systems
    Modern Automatic Fire Suppression Systems, commonly called sprinklers, can save lives and livelihoods. They provide protection from fire damage and, most importantly, give people a greater chance of getting out if there is a blaze. If you’re unlucky enough to have a fire they can significantly reduce the cost of the damage it causes by reducing its spread and severity.
  3. Monitored Smoke and Fire Alarms
    Whether your building is currently unoccupied or you’re starting to return to work, having a monitored smoke detector and fire alarm allow you to rest easy knowing that even if the battery is low or there’s a technical fault, they’re still effective. Fire alarm systems such as those from ADT are monitored 24/7/365 which help you rest assured knowing you can depend on your system and our team to take care of things even when you’re not close by.
  4. Fire Hose Reels
    A level up from extinguishers, fire hose reels offer a quick and inexhaustible flow of water. They can be installed by a single technician, minimising disruption to your business, and in an emergency they’re easy to identify and use.
  5. Emergency Lighting
    All fire-fighting equipment and alarms, emergency routes and exits must be well lit. That includes lighting at every door, corridor, floor level, staircase. Your emergency lighting should, of course, be tested regularly. In the event of a fire, you’ll want to get out quickly and safely.
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Author profile

Peter Lackey Fire Manager, Johnson Controls

With a relevant fire service and offshore survival background, Peter has worked in the fire safety industry for over 30 years. He is responsible for Johnson Controls UK&I’s electronic detection systems from development through marketing and training to life cycle management. Peter regularly addresses various professional bodies on fire safety engineering, and has been a member of the Fire Industry Association Marketing Group for almost 21 years, promoting the interests and benefits of membership, including acting as a respected lobby group for UK fire safety legislation

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