Articles by Peter Lackey
The risk of fire is thankfully not an immediate threat in most people’s everyday lives. But this has led to a nonchalant attitude where many fail to appreciate the true dangers posed by a fire situation. The pandemic has served to make matters even more complex, and has pushed fire safety on the back burner as facility managers (FMs) turn their attention to COVID-proofing the workplace. Safety at work is now more of a focus than it has ever been, but the race to ensure we can return to work safely has seen other important matters, like improving indoor air quality, take precedence. Fire detection systems As new rules and regulations regarding the pandemic are introduced, many FMs have been unable to focus on anything except the immediate issues at hand. But fire safety is always immediate. Fire detection systems and servicing and maintenance contracts have always been considered grudge purchases, but this doesn’t mean they should fall off the radar. As buildings have been left vacant, fire alarms have gone untested, have missed upgrades or have even failed to sound. Every business has faced unique challenges in their response to the pandemic But upholding fire safety measures in the workplace is both a moral and legal requirement to help ensure the protection of people and assets, and businesses must treat it with the attention it deserves. Every business has faced unique challenges in their response to the pandemic. We’ve seen some continue operating as usual, some pivot production to make face masks and hand sanitizer, while others have shut their doors for the foreseeable future. Fire risk assessments Those that remained open will likely have experienced considerable changes to workplace layouts, which may in turn have had adverse effects on fire safety – for example, fire doors being wedged open for ventilation, or because people don’t want to touch door handles; and new one-way systems that affect shared escape routes. What’s more, fluctuating staff occupancy levels mean there may not be enough fire wardens present should an alarm sound. All of these changes have an impact. In the event of a fire, your staff and assets might not be as safe as you think. But there is a simple solution: fire risk assessments. The vast majority of companies have undergone a change of occupancy during the pandemic and, as a result, must review their current fire safety measures through a risk assessment. Qualified third-Parties We often find that businesses lack staff with the appropriate training and skillsets in-house This involves looking at a building’s people, processes, procedures, contents and technologies, from fire alarms to sprinkler systems, with the aim of addressing any faults. With occupancy levels and more changed for the meantime – and possible for the long-term too – it’s vital to update your risk assessments. Failing to do so could have severe reputational and financial repercussions, particularly if livelihoods are affected. Should the worst happen, it could also lead to insurers refusing any pay-outs from failing to secure the premises, leading to even more difficulties down the line. We often find that businesses lack staff with the appropriate training and skillsets in-house to conduct a sufficient fire risk assessment. But even with the current restrictions, there’s no reason risk assessments can’t be easily carried out by qualified third-parties. Social distancing guidelines Many buildings lie vacant, meaning assessors simply need to show up in their PPE and conduct the assessment under social distancing guidelines. Technology can also play an important role, by ensuring a building’s safety systems are in order through remote diagnostic tools. Some assessors can even carry out a vast majority of the assessment virtually, examining floorplans, exit routes, and tech stacks from the comfort of their own homes. That said, many businesses won’t have the latest IoT sensors needed to notify FMs on the condition of a building’s physical aspects, such as occupancy levels, open fire doors or signage. Need for office space The impact of COVID-19 on the way we work will be felt for years to come The purpose of a fire risk assessment is to provide FMs with the knowledge they need to ensure their business and assets remain safe and secure, should the worst happen. COVID has not put a stop to this – distraction has. The onus is on FMs to put fire safety back on the priority list. The impact of COVID-19 on the way we work will be felt for years to come. For example, the success of the move to widespread remote work could see businesses revaluating the need for office space, and this will likely have knock-on effects to fire safety as regulations are taken into the home. Associated regulatory changes Elsewhere, the decline of the high street and closure of physical stores may see shops converted for other purposes - and these developments will be accompanied by the associated regulatory changes. It’s becoming clear that as the pandemic has changed the way we use buildings, it will also change the way we approach fire safety. People don’t like to think they may be impacted by fire, but we cannot let fire safety fall off the radar when livelihoods and lives are at risk. As FMs have worked hard to ensure our workplaces are COVID-proof once doors reopen, they must also approach the risk of fire with the same attentiveness. Awareness of the issue is now more important than ever – fire safety needs to be a top priority.
In the years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017, all eyes have been on fire regulations, which have come under increased scrutiny – and it’s easy to see why. Even after the disaster, businesses across the UK are still lagging behind on mandatory fire safety regulations. It seems that regulatory change has not brought about the desired outcome at most organizations. With all 53 recommendations of the Hackitt Review set to come into effect this year, many are hoping that this will soon change. Dame Hackitt’s ‘new regulatory regime’ will place renewed momentum on regulatory change to help ensure all tower blocks are safe to inhabit. The industry has realised that introducing regulations in a gradual fashion will see them implemented in a phased and unstructured approach. While every organization is working towards the same fire safety goals, the impact of this piecemeal change has been somewhat of a hindrance. What the industry needs is a complete overhaul of the way fire safety regulations are understood and applied. The Hackitt Review has helped to keep momentum going, but a lot more can be done to make regulatory change a reality. The changing regulatory landscape Take the Fire Safety Order of 2005. The Order, which states that fire detection and suppression systems and fire risk assessments must be ‘suitable and sufficient’, should be the starting point from which businesses determine their fire safety strategy. Sadly, in reality, outdated fire risk assessments and ill-prepared systems are all too common. UK businesses need to reconsider their policies and ensure that they are not only up to regulatory standard, but fully equipped to protect their employees, residents and visitors from harm. What the industry needs is a complete overhaul of the way fire safety regulations are understood and applied On a similar note, take 2017’s updated British Standard 5839-1 regulation as a second example. With the extended rules now in place, companies need to understand how they will be affected and what the requirements will be. The standard, which deals with the design, installation and maintenance of fire detection and alarm systems, now calls for greater attention to the reduction of false alarms, increased numbers of sensor types in different zones and improved maintenance. Due diligence requirements are being tightened up, and companies will find loopholes much more closely policed. Not only that, but investment in hardware, including covers for call points, is going to be necessary. Change will have to come at both the operational and the budget stages – and preparation is key. The government’s plans for a new buildings safety regulator should have a major impact on practices and on the wider landscape, shedding light on what needs to change within both residential and commercial buildings, and probably beyond the UK. Now it’s up to individual companies to change the way they approach fire safety, and ensure that they can keep occupants as safe as possible. Effective fire suppression as a priority For a case in point of how regulatory changes should be implemented, let’s consider sprinkler systems. In their current form, there is a requirement that buildings above a certain size and application must have sprinkler systems built in from the earliest stages of planning. As the Grenfell inquiry progresses and brings its recommendations to parliament, we can expect a far larger proportion of public buildings required to have sprinkler systems retrofitted, and new builds needing to incorporate them from the very beginning. Due diligence requirements are being tightened up, and companies will find loopholes much more closely policed But it’s not just a matter of installing sprinkler systems: servicing, maintenance, system design, and operation must all be properly attended to. Safety teams must ensure that all sprinkler systems are kept in full working order, checking components on a regular basis and running simulations where possible. Regular hazard reviews and testing carried out by certificated companies is also essential, and your systems must be checked by qualified engineers. There should be an attitude of honesty when it comes to upgrades and change – if a system fails to comply with regulations, or has degraded over time, then cost worries must always come second to compliance. Assessing the risk at your facilities To ensure safety, you need to ensure that your hardware is being tested on a regular basis by independent observers. You also need to conduct regular fire risk assessments of the entire building, taking into account everything from exits, gangways and ventilation to detection, alarms and evacuation procedures. From the furthest reach of the building to the place of ultimate safety, you need to have considered every potential hindrance and risk to give you the best chance of protecting your building occupants. But this doesn’t mean a black and white choice between a satisfactory balance sheet and the safety of employees and the local community. By working with an expert fire risk assessor, businesses can achieve regulatory compliance and desirable safety levels on a workable budget through a combination of intelligent consultancy and expertise. In the rush to avoid repeating past mistakes, there is certainly a risk that some fire safety teams may settle for less well-resourced assessors, or those without the expertise required to effectively and safely discern the conditions of the building, just to make sure that something is done. To avoid this, companies should be looking for professional organizations with a proven track record of successful assessments – who should be product agnostic – to conduct the review. A full-service offering is a positive sign that points to a good provider – a consultative organization that can assess needs and suggest solutions accordingly, specific to particular environments and systems, is key to reducing risk and achieving compliance. Even better, companies that can provide assessment, servicing, and long-term maintenance across an entire building, site or facility are most likely to be able to help you comply with new regulations and protect your staff and assets. The results of risk assessments A good fire risk assessment can be very literally the difference between life and death. We all like to think that it couldn’t happen to us; that our office or home must be safe, couldn’t possibly fall foul of a stray spark or a dropped match; but the statistics say otherwise. In the year ending September 2017, Fire and Rescue services attended over 170,000 fires in the UK, and there were 346 fatalities as a result. To ensure safety, you need to ensure that your hardware is being tested on a regular basis by independent observers We’ve all experienced the directionless panic that can set in when people undergo an unplanned fire drill. That’s particularly heightened in cases where false alarms are common – frequent evacuations as a result of poor maintenance or system management breed complacency. Why is this relevant to fire risk assessments? The better your assessment, the more well-equipped you’ll be to plan your evacuation procedure, as well as to locate and maintain your detection and suppression systems. A regularly-updated fire risk assessment is the key to understanding the potential pitfalls of your building, whether that’s sub-par fire doors, narrow staircases, a small number of exterior exit points or simply a need for more alarm call points. Some of those factors will be out of your control, but you can take advice from your assessors and install new hardware or remove obstacles from gangways. Above all, you’ll be better able to draft a well-informed evacuation plan to ensure that all occupants know what’s required of them in the event of a fire. Aside from all-important personal safety, there are also business considerations involved in fire risk assessments, the most prominent among them being regulatory compliance and future commercial planning. We began by considering some of the major regulatory requirements that have been introduced under BS 5839-1:2017. The best way to help yourself prepare for compliance and ensure that you do a good job of implementing the changes is to have a comprehensive fire risk assessment on hand to help you understand how the rules will apply to your particular situation. The ability to plan effectively will also help you to look after the bottom line without sacrificing due diligence. There are worries that sweeping changes in fire regulations will cost the earth, and when faced with a whole new raft of purchases and process updates, it can feel daunting and expensive. However, by beginning now and making sure you have a comprehensive understanding of your facility’s strengths and weaknesses with regard to fire safety, you’ll be able to get a basic understanding of what’s going to need changing, allowing you to plan any necessary expenses and review multiple tenders to get the best price. Moving forward With renewed focus on fire regulations, it’s essential for companies of every size to shape up, regardless of their workforce or building type. Protecting lives and assets from the risk of fire is of crucial importance. Ignoring the details of fire safety will no longer simply be an oversight – but a matter of life or death. Protecting lives and assets from the risk of fire is of crucial importance Conducting a detailed fire risk assessment is a good first step to ensuring businesses are prepared. From there, choosing a partner who has access to a full suite of services and a proven track record of success will help usher in the necessary change. Fire safety should ultimately be treated with the severity and attention that it deserves – there is simply too much to lose if we fail to learn from past mistakes.
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: Fire ExtinguishersThere 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. Sprinkler SystemsModern 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. Monitored Smoke and Fire AlarmsWhether 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. Fire Hose ReelsA 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. Emergency LightingAll 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.
The majority of fires within the UK take place within the home; with that in mind, it is highly advisable to regularly update and practice exit strategies in the event of an emergency. In order to raise awareness of fire safety in our communities, it’s important to be clear on what the most common causes of household fires are. Electrical appliances Electrical items are a major culprit of home fires. This can easily be avoided by ensuring a PAT test is carried out each year. It’s crucial to replace damaged or frayed wiring around outlets and to dispose old or faulty appliances. Never overcrowd electrical outlets and only use extension cords when necessary. Overwhelming units by ‘daisy chaining’ extensions to fit more appliances leads to higher chances of an electrical fire. All electrical appliances should additionally be repaired or installed According to the London Fire Brigade, around 60 percent of fires in the home begin in the kitchenby a certified professional. It’s also worth keeping an eye on sockets and fuses that blow for no reason. Flickering lights and scorch marks on sockets or plugs are easy signs which can alert you to unsafe environments. A common habit is to leave electrical items unattended overnight on ‘standby’ mode, this should always be switched off when not in continual use to avoid overheating. Whilst personal home assistant devices are meant to be in constant operation, be sure to look out for hot plugs and turn off outlets when you will be out of the house for extended periods of time such as holidays or weekends away. Smoking materials, lighters and matches The festive season sees a 12% surge in call-outs compared to the monthly average and over the last three years, fire crews dealt with 2,300 fires on Christmas Day alone. When celebrating the festivities try safer alternatives such as battery-operated or LED candles. Faux candles are a great substitute, particularly if you are living with young children. Always let hot matches cool in a metal or ceramic dish or run them under water for extra precaution. Keeping matches nearby lit candles or leaving lit candles unattended overnight are palpable dangers within the home. When celebrating festivities, try safer alternatives such as battery-operated or LED candles Space heaters Portable heaters are the cause of many UK home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Half of those fires occur because objects are kept within three feet of the heater getting far too hot and catching alight. Keeping flammable items at the recommended distance is essential warding off potential fires. Refrain from covering heaters or air vents with dry or damp washing, even if you have installed a fireguard. While some space heaters utilize a self-timer or sleep feature, be sure to manually switch off the heater when it’s not in use. By assuming the heater will automatically turn itself off, you leave yourself at risk as the heater may malfunction. Additionally, as self-timers only control the product itself and not the outlet, the plug still may be at risk of overheating. Cooking According to the London Fire Brigade, around 60 percent of fires in the home begin in the kitchen. It is crucial to be aware of your safety whilst cooking, with some points to always consider: Try not to leave cooking unattended on the hob or grill – if you leave the kitchen turn off the heat Do not cook whilst under the influence of alcohol or medication that can cause drowsiness Be aware of loose clothing that can easily catch fire, take care not to lean over a hob and always keep tea towels and clothes away from the cooker In the event of loose clothing or a cloth catching fire; practice the stop, drop and roll rule – don’t run, lie down on the ground and roll in heavy fabric or a fire blanket to smother the flames Keep the oven, hob, extractor fan and grill as clean as possible – built up fat and grease can ignite and cause fires Use spark devices to light gas cookers, they are far safer than matches or lighters as they don’t have a naked flame. Ensure toasters are kept clean and not placed under kitchen cabinets Never place anything made of metal in a microwave When cooking on the stove-top, use the fan or open a window to disperse any smoke and avoid accidentally triggering any fire alarm If water or food spillages occur whilst the hobs are on and in use, turn off the heat, remove any pans, and let it cool before using any cleaning equipment Preventing spreading To prevent fires from spreading, it’s important to check hidden electrical outlets, particularly those behind large pieces of furniture such as television stands or couches – be sure to keep enough distance between the object and the outlet to prevent crowding. Check these out of sight outlets once a month to ensure there are no obvious signs of scorch marks. It is also a good idea to ensure you add an outlet inspection to any checklist before leaving on holiday. Good fire safety precautions can be practiced as part of your daily routine. Ensure you keep a torch and phone by your bed in case of a fire during the night. Install a dual alarm that uses long-life lithium batteries on every level of your home (including the basement). Test smoke alarms monthly to make sure they’re working properly and ensure you take the time to replace batteries every year for complete peace of mind. Test smoke alarms monthly to make sure they’re working properly and ensure you take the time to replace batteries An exit strategy If you find yourself trapped with no feasible exit to safety, get everyone into one room, ideally with a window and a phone and place bedding around the bottom of To prevent fires from spreading, it’s important to check hidden electrical outlets, particularly those behind large pieces of furniture the door to stifle smoke. Call 999 when possible and open the window to let your presence be known. If you’re on the ground or first floor, you may be able to escape through a window. Use bedding to cushion your fall and lower yourself down carefully – don’t jump. If you can’t open the window break the glass in the bottom corner and make jagged edges safer by cushioning glass with a towel or thick blanket. Don’t make the mistake of investigating what’s happened in the event of a fire or rescuing valuables. If there’s smoke, keep low where the air is clearer. In the event of having to open a door, check if it’s warm. If it is, don’t open it – it is likely the fire is on the other side.