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Covid-19: business fire safety

It's important to continue practising fire safety despite the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

All businesses should review their Fire Risk assessment and Emergency Plan in light of the impact of Covid-19 on their staffing levels, operating times, business processes and evacuation arrangements.

Further information on fire risk assessments can be found in the Business Regulations (Fire) section.

Find out about virtual fire drills during the coronavirus outbreak.

If your business is still operating or you are looking to reopen

For businesses that remain open and those thinking about opening their doors again, there are some key Fire Safety matters you need to consider. This information is designed to provide some useful assistance.

Fire Risk Assessments

On your return to work or where things have changed it will be necessary to review your Fire Risk Assessment to ensure that it is current and reflects the way your business now operates. Consider changes such as working practices, stock levels or any alterations made to the premises and staff numbers. It is essential that assessments are undertaken and reviewed where there are significant changes in ways of working, processes or building layout.

Means of escape

Ensure that your escape routes remain available and doors open correctly - they may have seized up whilst not being used or tested. Fire doors must not be held open without suitable automatic closing devices linked to a fire detection system.

Shared escape routes require an agreement with the responsible person for any other businesses that may not be open. This should be supported with adequate escape signage and lighting to identify the escape routes to be used in event of fire.

If you have changed the way people queue or introduced one way systems, you must review the impact on the travel distance to their nearest exit based on the proposed occupancy. Any changes that could potentially affect the means of escape must be recorded in the fire risk assessment.

If you have secured communal areas to reduce close contact (for example in a residential care home,) ensure that this does not affect escape routes or access to assembly points.

Arson

Due to a potential increase in stock levels and extended periods of closure, the amount of waste your business generates may increase. Extra care should be taken to ensure waste does not accumulate outside and unlocked commercial bins or skips are not left against buildings providing a potential target for arson which could significantly damage your business. 

Training

Where staff numbers have changed or you have new or temporary staff, businesses must ensure they continue to provide appropriate staff training. If you haven’t undertaken staff training for some time or if you are returning to work, ensure all staff members know what to do in a fire situation and are familiar with the escape routes. If those people with specific tasks (e.g. testing fire alarms) have not returned to work, ensure that cover is maintained by allocating a suitably trained substitute. You must consider the needs of any lone workers and their fire safety.

Maintaining fire safety measures

If your business has been closed, have you maintained your premises fire safety features, i.e. fire alarm, fire extinguishers and emergency lighting? Timely maintenance is vital for the safety of your business and those that use the premises.

Ensure that fire doors are not wedged or mechanically held open without a suitable approved hold-open device. Holding them open will prevent them carrying out their primary function of stopping a fire from spreading and may mean that if you do have a fire people could be unable to escape.

Check out our frequently asked questions around business safety and Covid-19.

Using portable heaters/changing outside layouts

As businesses reopen and utilise outside spaces to comply with Covid-19 restrictions, business owners should:

  • Ensure they have reviewed their fire risk assessments if you have changed layout or use, including the temporary structure risk assessment for outdoor events via the National Fire Chiefs Council website
  • Make sure any outdoor heaters are correctly installed and that they have followed the manufacturers guidance for use
  • Check servicing and maintenance on all heating appliances
  • Position heaters away from flammable objects
  • Ensure there is adequate signage and lighting for escape routes
  • Make sure any temporary structures are fire retardant
  • Use and store gas bottles in line with the appropriate code of practice

Business owners needing fire safety advice can contact the community fire protection team on 0300 123 1669, who will gladly offer support during this challenging time.

If you’ve had to close your business

If your building is closed for an extended period of time, there are some key steps to take in order to reduce the risk of fire:

  • Keep all entrances and exits clear, and rubbish and commercial bins should be emptied and stored securely away from any buildings
  • If possible, don’t store excessive amounts of stock in a hazardous manner
  • Turn off all electrical devices where possible and remove plugs from sockets
  • Ensure your building is secure and continue with usual measures to prevent arson
  • If no staff will be using the building regularly, your premises should regularly be checked to ensure that the security of the building has not been compromised. Any issues should be reported to Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111.
  • If the fire warning and detection system at your premises is linked to an alarm collecting centre they should be advised that the building will be empty. Confirm that the collecting centre has up to date contact details of managers of the premises in case of alarm actuation.
  • If your building is connected or adjacent to a domestic dwelling and you have a shared fire alarm, you must arrange for continued weekly testing to take place.
  • If you share a means of escape with a premises that is open you will need to ensure that an agreement is reached with that premises to allow them adequate means of escape.

Healthcare premises

Staffing levels in care homes must be maintained to ensure emergency plans can be effectively managed and staff should constantly monitor the situation on their premises.

If staffing levels are affected by Covid-19, care homes should review their fire risk assessment and emergency plan. If there are insufficient staff to support a care home’s evacuation strategy, the care home should immediately consult with their Fire Risk Assessor to put in place an effective alternative strategy.

Any staged evacuation arrangements such as progressive horizontal evacuation, (PHE) which are often in place in hospitals and care homes, need to be supported by appropriate levels of staff.

If a fire does occur in your premises you must ensure the fire service is called at the earliest opportunity and inform the operator that an evacuation is in progress.

Find out more about our support for businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.

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