As we start to see lockdown measures gradually ease, many businesses will be planning their return to their physical premises. To ensure the utmost levels of protection for both staff and members of the public, commercial fire safety procedures will need to be adapted in accordance with social distancing.
Fortunately, with careful planning and consideration, fire safety protocol shouldn’t be compromised by social distancing. CLM Fireproofing, a London-based passive fire protection company, have provided some guidelines for how to adapt fire safety training and drills for social distancing.
Preparing for Return to Work
Business owners must first assess changes to their workforce. Many will be bringing team members in reduced numbers. It is also likely that a portion of their employees have been furloughed. If any furloughed employees were previously appointed as fire marshals, you will want to draft in temporary replacements. Alternatively, you may have recruited remote workers with the aim of bringing them on-site. If this is the case, these workers require a fire safety induction.
Prior to your team returning to work, we recommend conducting an adapted fire safety training session. This could be carried out using platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet. There is also the option of enlisting a third-party accredited fire safety training course. This has the benefit of resources often being readily available following course completion. This allows key staff members to refresh their knowledge if they so wish. However, seeing as these courses won’t be tailored to your specific work environment, you should still carry out a fire safety induction for new staff members.
It is also important to keep any remote or temporarily furloughed staff in the loop of fire safety updates. By creating an online hub of relevant fire safety information, risk assessments, and new procedures, you can ensure that relevant personnel are brought up to speed before returning to the office.
Can You Carry out a Socially Distant Fire Drill?
Social distancing brings a new level of complexity to fire drills. Some organisations recommend initiating a ‘desktop drill’. This involves providing managers and designated fire marshalls with an overview of evacuation procedures and risk assessments, without any type of physical walkthrough.
While desktop drills can mitigate concerns surrounding social distancing, they contain their own level of risk. One of the reasons fire drills are critical is because they account for changes to your physical surroundings. For instance, is a corridor or room now being used for storage? Are fire exits still accessible for employees with mobility issues? Are there any trip hazards that were previously unaccounted for?
It’s fundamental that fire marshals are able to make quick and confident decisions based on their immediate surroundings. This makes a strong case for companies organising socially distant fire drills. In March 2020, The Wates Group, a Surrey-based construction and development firm, carried out a successful emergency fire safety drill of over 100 staff whilst remaining compliant with social distancing. A video of the drill was then uploaded to their company website.
Initiating a Socially Distant Fire Drill
Before initiating a socially-distant fire drill, you should review your current fire assembly points. Is it possible for everyone to safely convene at these points, whilst also remaining 2 metres apart? If so, create temporary distance markers so staff members can congregate at the assembly point at a safe proximity. For companies with a larger workforce, assembly points could potentially be divided into several ‘zones’, with each zone overseen by a fire marshal.
If you do not feel confident that staff can safely gather at your current assembly point, then you must utilise a dispersal system. This involves breaking up your workforce into small groups and assigning them a designated assembly point. Each new assembly point should have its own register and appointed fire marshal, and must be accessible by staff members with mobility issues. Groups must be notified of the location of each assembly point well in advance, and that each point can be accessed by staff members with mobility issues. This is because, based on their location at the time of the drill, members of the group may be with staff members who are going to different assembly points.
Once your staff members can return to the building, they should be directed to multiple designated entry points to avoid any crowding upon re-entry. It is also ideal that each entry point is placed in close proximity to handwashing or sanitation facilities.
Finally, if you suspect there is a fire in your building you must confirm without a doubt that this is the case before contacting emergency services. Otherwise, you may be putting emergency service workers at risk. Once you are sure there is a fire, notify the fire departments and follow your new evacuation measures.