Fire Drills & COVID-19

Background

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to present a range of challenges for Property Managers.  The following question is the latest raised by a number of clients as they continue their planning to re-occupy / increase the number of people permitted to restart work activities in commercials properties:

Should I still be carrying out fire drills in my commercial premises?

In answering this question, we initially turned to the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) guide – COVID-19 Protection Fire Safety FAQs For Businesses which was published on 9th April 2020. Whilst the NFCC re-stressed the important part fire drills play in any successful emergency evacuation procedure, their advice focuses on assessing the current situation on an individual basis. Their advice also suggested alternative ways of familiarising new occupants with the premises including exploring the feasibility of running desktop fire drills.

Since the publication of this information and as more Government guidance has been published, in particular,  Working safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres – Guidance for employers, employees and the self-employed, dated 11th May 2020, it is clear that the practicalities of implementing social distancing rules, have led some fire authorities to now advise that fire drills should be postponed in the short/medium term – a stance which we would also support.

However, we also think that if the ‘responsible person’ (as defined by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) simply declares a postponement to running planned fire drills, then this will not be sufficient in terms of complying with current requirements to have adopted a risk-based approach to introducing such changes.

Therefore, we are recommending that clients ensure occupants understand what action to take in the event of fire during the period when planned fire drills are not taking place. This process may include additional communication methods such as using noticeboards or emailing out procedures and evacuation plans. We are also recommending that it is important to review these against any layout alterations including changes to the use of entrance and exit doors, which may have been introduced as part of a more general COVID-19 Risk Assessments completed as part of re-occupation planning and the introduction of social distancing controls.

 How We Can Help?

For clients wishing to check that their existing emergency evacuation procedures are satisfactory, Quantum Compliance is able to undertake desktop fire drills which will involve a site review of:

  • the fire evacuation plan taking account of changes in occupation;
  • the arrangements for training fire wardens;
  • methods of communicating the fire evacuation plan;
  • Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) arrangements;
  • impacts on the property’s current fire risk assessment; and
  • testing and maintenance arrangements for fire alarm and control systems.

If you require further information or advice regarding any aspects of maintaining effective fire safety controls during the Covid-19 pandemic, please contact phil.jones@qcompliance.co.uk at Quantum Compliance.