Paula Wilson, Operations Manager, Title, looks at corporate responsibility for fire safety.
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how companies do business.
From flexible home-working to socially-distanced office space, the main priority for business managers has been to keep people safe.
But it’s also worth remembering that the issue of fire safety is also a responsibility for every business.
COVID-19 may be uppermost in everyone’s mind, but in 2018/19 there were 182,825 recorded fires in England. Commercial building fires accounted for 15,005 of those (20%).
An analysis of data over the past ten years shows that ‘industrial premises’ have seen the most fires, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 of all fires, closely followed by ‘retail premises’ and ‘food and drink premises.’
The impact of a major fire can be devastating, and many businesses never recover.
Threat of fire
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) predicts that UK businesses could stand to lose £10 billion between 2010 and the end of this year as a result of fire.
The Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters (CILA) says that 43% of business interruption policies were underinsured by an average of 53%.
In other words, the threat of fire is something that should be planned for because, although rare events, fires do happen.
The requirement for fire safety is, of course, a regulatory requirement. We would therefore urge employers to look again at their fire risk assessments.
It may be that office layouts have changed. Office spaces may have been repurposed to cope with social distancing.
Or it could simply be that fire-trained staff, who know all the drills and procedures, are now working from home.
All those issues need to be looked at again because all non-domestic premises must have a designated “responsible person” to ensure fire safety.
That’s everything from carrying out a fire risk assessment to planning for an emergency. That person, and there can be more than one, also has responsibility for staff training and for holding regular fire drills.
It’s understandable that the main concern of employers is to keep staff safe from the spread of COVID-19. While that is, of course, a very real threat, so too is fire.
In England, the appropriate legislation falls under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. There are similar regulations elsewhere in the UK.
Remember, there are hefty penalties for non-compliance, even if no fire has occurred. Ensuring compliance is the responsibility of safety inspectors from the fire services.
The most important duty of the nominated responsible person is to look holistically at their business premises.
It’s about identifying areas of potential risk, determining strategies for dealing with any fire, and ensuring the safe evacuation of all that building’s occupants.
It’s a process that starts with a fire risk assessment. That will identify problem areas, consider containment and other strategies, and implement passive and active solutions.
At Wrightstyle, we recommend taking the widest-possible view. That means looking beyond fire safety regulation to also consider all possible risks against that building’s occupants, structure, resources and continuity of operations.
Our view is that compliance with fire regulations, while important and necessary, is not enough. Simply, dealing with a fire is much more than ensuring human safety.
At the very least, fire can be disruptive. At most, it can shut down a business, perhaps permanently.
A robust fire risk assessment should therefore be about more than the practicalities of regulatory compliance. For example, if fire does happen, can we quickly move manufacturing elsewhere?
Or if fire wipes out computer data, should we not also store business-critical information elsewhere?
Modern glazing systems can provide complete protection for up to two hours against the passage of smoke, fire or toxic gases. Our complete, compatible and guaranteed systems include curtain walling, or internal and external doors or fire screens.
At the moment, being responsible must be to safeguard the health of employees and any visitors to a building.
But every designated “responsible person” shouldn’t forget they have a wider responsibility of care. Not only to protect lives in the event of fire, but to safeguard business continuity.
Even at this challenging time, it’s a responsibility nobody should forget about.