Fire safety during Covid-19

We are now seven months into the pandemic and most of you are beginning to navigate your way through the barrage of information and apply controls to reduce the risk in the present situation.

Some of the circumstances that we have observed, of how covid-19 controls are being applied to fire safety would benefit from a review of their suitability.

These include

  • Does fire safety law apply in the current Covid-19 situation?

Yes, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 still applies and we are required to ensure the risk from fire is identified and suitable measures are implemented.

It is essential that Fire Risk Assessments are undertaken or reviewed where there are significant changes in ways of working or processes. These may include reduced or increased staff numbers, parts of the premises being closed and greater material storage.

  • Fire doors taped or wedged open to prevent transmission

There is a real possibility that some organisations are putting persons at risk from fire and may experience the whole of their building being destroyed through this practice. The instruction from the National Fire Chiefs Council, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue as with other FRS is Do not wedge open fire doors.

 

We know people are worried the virus may be transmitted via surfaces that are regularly touched such as door handles. We cannot stress enough how important it is to NOT wedge open fire doors. We ask you to focus on cleaning door handles/ push plates regularly or, if your premises are equipped with automatic fire alarm systems, suitable hold open devices that release on activation of the fire alarm. Fire doors are a very important part of protecting people within a premises.

Note that Government guidance does for specific sectors, for examples SCHOOLS, permit the practice of wedging open doors (unless fire doors) to maintain and increase the supply of fresh air to reduce transmission.

  • No fire safety trained staff in attendance due to home working and self isolation

It is the Owner’s / Employers / Person In Control of the Premises responsibility to ensure there are sufficiently trained staff to assist them in managing fire safety.

It is important that all persons who may be working at the premises are given fire safety training relevant to their role, responsibilities and needs in event of fire. You should review the current level of training against each individual and update where required – this is essential for any occupants who may not be familiar with your premises.

Employers should continue to undertake and review their Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for their staff. This is particularly crucial in the care industry where residents may rely on staff to instigate evacuation measures.

 

In any case, procedures should be reviewed so that they accurately reflect the staff available. Such reviews must carefully weigh the risks from fire and the ability of such businesses to operate safely.

You also need to ensure all persons are familiar with evacuation procedures and any role they are required to carry out during an evacuation.

  • Large stocks of hand sanitiser with large alcohol contents

Hand sanitiser has become a very popular – and very necessary – hand hygiene product, preventing the spread of germs and harmful bacteria. It is now widely used in many settings and lots of people even carry hand sanitiser with them so they can keep their hands clean, particularly when they don’t have access to soap and water

Whilst Fire chiefs have debunked the myth that hand sanitiser can catch fire in hot cars, most hand sanitiser products contain a high volume of alcohol (60-95%) concentration

But the necessarily high alcohol content of hand sanitiser products also means you should be aware of its potential as a fire hazard. Typically the manufacturers of some hand sanitisers state that they have a flash point around 190C classifying them as highly flammable or in the 200C’s classifying them as flammable liquids.

Hand sanitisers should be stored as per highly flammable / flammable liquids. Check the manufacturers information (MSDS).

Need help?

If you have a specific question about fire safety within your premises during Covid-19 contact ProAktive or your Local Authority Legislative Officers. All of us will be happy to help you.

By Ian French CMIOSHRisk Consultant

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