Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service has seen a dramatic upturn in engagement with local companies following its new and innovative approach to Business Fire Safety Week (promoted by the National Fire Chief's Council).
Each year, crews across the UK use the week to publicise the importance of fire safety awareness in the workplace.
Reflecting on limited success in previous years, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service decided to take a new approach in 2019.
Dave Bray, Oxfordshire's Fire Protection Manager, explains:
"We were putting time and effort into planning and advertising but struggling to generate much interest.
"Previously business owners were invited to come to events organised by the fire protection team. Last year we 'turned it on its head'; we would visit companies and retailers."
Operational crews in Oxfordshire are not normally involved in fire protection activity but are ideally placed to do so. The project did not need enforcing officers, this was about sharing guidance and advice; an opportunity for local crews to engage with local businesses.
A decision was made to focus on takeaway establishments after a review of prohibition notices' data showed their use of premises often raised a number of fire safety issues.
Dave Bray explains: "We decided to make the link between poor food hygiene and general standards in the building, including fire safety. This enabled us to further target resources, focusing on takeaways that had a two-star food hygiene rating or less."
Google Maps were used to identify those locations that had domestic accommodation above the takeaways.
Wholetime crews are ideally located in the five big market towns of Oxfordshire. They were provided with guidance from the fire protection team, and with boxes of Do you own a takeaway or restaurant? leaflets to give to owners or the responsible person at each takeaway.
This multilingual leaflet is available in Turkish, Bengali and Mandarin; reflecting the languages of many takeaway owners across the county.
Through consultation with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) - who translated the leaflets - Oxfordshire's web services team created a specific campaign page with link, taking those looking for a particular language leaflet straight into the DSFRS website.
A further single page alternate language document meant crews could converse with business owners who could not speak English, directing them through to the business fire safety pages, where they could get the leaflet in their preferred language.
Dave Bray said: "Everything was designed to make guidance and support accessible. We went to each business. We created different language versions. This was about us providing a safety advice service, rather than expecting businesses to find it themselves."
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service took a decision to run the initiative for a month, rather than just a week. An extended campaign gave more time to identify premises that would benefit from the advice and support.
Takeaways and restaurants often do not appear on the risk-based inspection programme. Many have alarm systems that are not linked to alarm receiving centres, so do not get flagged for unwanted fire signals. As a result, they are unlikely to be audited by fire inspectors.
During the campaign, 108 takeaways and restaurants were visited by the fire crews.
Six prohibition notices were served as a result of situations that presented a risk of death or serious injury had a fire occurred. The prohibition notices directly increased the safety of 20 local residents. These buildings were unlikely to have been inspected without the new innovative approach.
The literature's link to business fire safety webpages stimulated a 200% increase in traffic on those pages compared to the previous year's campaign, and an increase in how long people stayed on them.
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service completed a lessons learnt review and presented this to its strategic leadership team. The main points were:
- face to face sessions with crews, rather than email briefs, would have been beneficial in further enhancing the impact of the campaign; * takeaway businesses do present a fire safety risk;
- the working hours of some of fire and rescue's shifts present a challenge in linking with opening hours of takeaways. The crews found ways to overcome this.
The strategic leadership team decided that takeaways and restaurants with a food hygiene rating of two or less - and which have domestic accommodation above them - must be added to fire and rescue's risk-based inspection programme.
This important step now means these premises can be regularly inspected by Oxfordshire's fire protection team.
Dave Bray concludes: "Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service wants to help local businesses thrive, and to do so safely by complying with guidance to protect their workforce and customers, and to safeguard their premises from accident or fire.
"The reach we achieved; the involvement of local crews, community engagement, and an innovative and collaborative approach - all these factors meant we made a big difference.
"We now have a model to further improve and develop during future Business Fire Safety Weeks."
For further information visit: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/businessfiresafety