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Covid-19 fire safety advice for businesses: Frequently asked questions

The following frequently asked questions (FAQs) provide generic advice to businesses. It is important to remember every premises is different and the impact caused by the current pandemic and the measures implemented will not be the same for everyone. For example, some businesses may have more staff than normal to manage an evacuation, other businesses may have blocked off parts of their premises to prevent access, reducing the number of available exits.

However your premises has been affected, your fire safety measures must remain adequate for the safety of people in the event of a fire.

Where you require more specific advice, you can contact an inspecting officer via our Fire Safety Helpline 01392 872567 (available Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).

FAQs topics

1. General guidance on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
2. Escape routes and exits
3. Emergency evacuation procedures
4. Fire safety training
5. Testing and maintenance
6. Fire prevention and risk management
7. Miscellaneous


1. General guidance on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Q. Does fire safety law apply in the current Covid-19 situation?

A. Yes, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (The Order) still applies. It is the duty of the Responsible Person*
to ensure risk from fire is identified and suitable measures implemented.

There is currently no relaxation in fire safety law.

If you feel you do not have the necessary experience/skills to identify the general fire precautions required to keep people safe, you should appoint one or more competent persons to assist you.


Read further information on how to find a competent risk assessor

*The Responsible Person as defined in Article 3 of The Order is a hierarchy where the Responsible Person is:

1. The employer;
2. Where there is no employer, the person who has control of the premises; or
3. The owner.

Q. My manager and supervisor who normally deal with fire safety are self-isolating and I do not know what to do?

A. It is the Responsible Person's duty to ensure there are sufficiently trained staff to assist them in managing fire safety.

You should contact your manager and/or supervisor to seek advice. There should be a premises fire risk assessment which will help you.

Q. Will the fire and rescue service (FRS) visit my premises as normal?

A. In the current situation Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) is following government guidance on limiting non-essential contact and, as such, we are taking a risk-based approach to all business fire safety activity.

As the Responsible Person, you have an ongoing duty to ensure the safety of people and implement suitable fire safety measures. You can do this by reviewing and updating your current fire risk assessment and/or seeking advice from a competent fire risk assessor.

An inspecting officer from DSFRS may contact you to arrange a physical inspection of the premises as soon as is reasonably practicable.

Q. Will the fire service come and tell me my premises is safe to continue to use?

A. No, unless it is identified as a significant risk. As the Responsible Person, it is your duty to ensure risk from fire is identified and suitable measures are implemented. You can do this by reviewing and updating your current fire risk assessment and/or seeking advice from a competent fire risk assessor.

Q. A legal notice has been served on my premises. Is it still valid?

A. Yes, the current situation with Covid-19 has not changed the status of any notices issued under The Order. If you need to speak to someone about the notice please contact our Fire Safety Helpline 01392 872567 (available Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).

2. Escape routes and exits

Q. I am re-opening my premises and need to implement a 'one-way' system to maintain social distancing, what do I need to consider?


A. If a one-way system or other process is introduced to control the flow of occupants, its impact on the means of escape must be assessed to ensure all occupants can leave the premises quickly and safely in the event of fire. Specifically, they should not have to travel excessive distances to reach the nearest available final exit.


Before you make any changes, you should consider the impact on your evacuation strategy. The outcome of the assessment should be recorded in your fire risk assessment and your emergency evacuation plan should be updated, as necessary.


If you are unsure you should seek advice from a competent person.

Q. Can we wedge open fire doors to stop people from touching handles and to help keep rooms ventilated?

A. Fire doors play a significant part in stopping and limiting the spread of fire and smoke in buildings to provide safe evacuation. There are a number of technological solutions to 'holding fire doors open' that will safely close in the event of the fire alarm activating. This will enable businesses to strike a balance between fire safety and infection control.

An assessment by a competent person should be undertaken before allowing doors to be propped open, to ensure they are not required to support the fire safety strategy of the building.

You should ensure staff understand the importance of fire doors and remain vigilant to emerging new practices which may have an adverse impact on your current fire safety precautions.

Q. Can I lock some fire exits that we are no longer using for security, as we have a reduced number of staff and are not using all the premises?

A. The number and distribution of fire exits needs to be a suitable and sufficient for your premises and immediately available without the use of a key or code. This should ensure occupants do not have to travel excessive distances or pass through an area of high fire risk or move towards a fire to escape.

Before you make any changes, you should consider the impact on your evacuation strategy. The outcome of the assessment should be recorded in your fire risk assessment and your emergency evacuation plan should be updated accordingly.

Any changes should be relayed to all staff. You may also need to update existing signage.

For premises which rely on 'progressive horizontal evacuation' by moving residents to another compartment - such as in care homes - you will need to ensure the removal of an exit does not create a situation where residents could become trapped in a dead-end.

If you are unsure you should seek advice from a competent person.

Q. What should I do about my fire escape route as it passes through next door which is closed?

A. You need to assess and evaluate the impact this has on your premises and the ability to escape in event of fire. You should liaise with the Responsible Person of the other premises to see if an agreement can be reached to allow the continued use of the exit. This should be recorded in your fire risk assessment.

If you are unsure you should seek advice from a competent person.

Q. What do I do as my premises is a multi-occupied building and some businesses are still closed?

A. You need to assess and evaluate the impact this has on all your fire safety measures. You should do this in conjunction with other premises owners and the premises management company, to assess the risk. Record the findings in your fire risk assessment.

If you are unsure you should seek advice from a competent person.

3. Emergency Evacuation Procedures

Q. Should I still be carrying out fire drills?

A. Fire drills are an important part of any successful emergency evacuation procedure and can assist in a safe evacuation in the event of fire. It is important everyone understands their role and that the procedures to follow in an emergency are adequate to ensure the safe evacuation of everyone in your premises. A fire drill enables you to review both.

You need to consider when staff last participated in the premises' fire evacuation drill. All staff should fully understand their role, the location of emergency exits and the procedures to follow in an emergency. This is particularly important where you have agency staff or staff that have been relocated from another site. In order to support government guidance on Covid-19 you may conclude that you can carry out a desktop drill in the interim.

It is also extremely important to take into consideration the need for Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) and how these will be managed and supported as part of your overall emergency evacuation procedures, especially where staffing levels have reduced.

Q. My evacuation strategy relies on a specific number of staff but normal staffing levels have not yet resumed. How can I ensure a safe evacuation?

A. You need to immediately review your emergency evacuation procedures and assess how your current staffing levels will impact the safety of those staff at work and those people who may need to be assisted during an evacuation.

Particular consideration should be given to PEEPs and those most vulnerable. You should consider, where practical, relocating occupants within the premises and minimising the areas in use; investigating all avenues to provide the required number of staff.

If you are unsure seek further advice from a competent person.

Q. If the fire alarm sounds, how do I maintain social distancing during an evacuation?

A. It is essential the fire evacuation plan is implemented and people are moved to safety. Whilst social distancing may be impacted during evacuation, this cannot override the priority for carrying out the evacuation plan.

Q. How do I maintain social distancing at the Assembly Point?


A. You need to review and revise your current emergency plan and Fire Marshall provision, including the Assembly Point.

Where changes are implemented, ensure all staff and occupants are issued with revised instructions and are aware of what is expected.

Q. Can the premises be re-occupied once the fire service have confirmed it is safe?


A. There are a number of factors which may affect the safe re-occupation of the premises following an emergency evacuation, including the extent of fire damage and the state of the fire alarm system. You are strongly advised to review your contingency plans before such a situation arises, with consideration to:

  • Reviewing the arrangements for and suitability of alternative accommodation should you be unable to re-occupy your premises
  • Contacting your fire alarm company to establish their current procedures for undertaking emergency repairs/maintenance

Before any premises is re-occupied it will need to be assessed by a competent person to ensure the fire safety measures remain/are suitable. This may include the provision of temporary measures until long term repairs can be undertaken. The fire service cannot undertake this assessment for you.

4. Fire Safety Training

Q. Do I still need to provide fire safety training?

A. Yes, it is important all staff working at the premises are given fire safety training relevant to their role and responsibilities. It is essential that any staff who may not be familiar with your premises, such as agency or temporary staff, are informed of the fire safety arrangements and any specific risks to which they may be exposed. In addition, they should know what is expected of them in the event of fire and the location of all emergency exits.

You should review the current level of training against each individual and update where required.

Q. With reduced staffing, I do not have enough personnel trained in the use of fire extinguishers. Can anyone use them?

A. It is important any person expected to use a fire extinguisher has been suitably trained. They should:

  • be familiar with the operating instructions
  • understand which extinguisher can be used on which type of fire
  • be aware of the fire extinguisher locations.

Additionally:

  • Fire extinguishers should be kept clean to prevent cross-contamination
  • You should not carry out activities which create a high risk of fire, such as Hot Works* (unless they are completed by fully competent people, and all aspects of the processes, including responding to a fire, has been fully assessed)
  • Fire extinguishers should be maintained on a regular basis.

* Hot Works is defined as 'cutting and welding operations for construction/demolition activities that involve the use of portable gas or arc welding equipment, or involve soldering, grinding, or any other similar activities producing a spark, flame, or heat.'

5. Testing and Maintenance

Q. Do I still need to test and maintain my fire safety systems (e.g. fire alarm, emergency lighting and fire extinguishers)?

A. There has been no relaxation of fire safety legislation and it is the responsibility of the responsible person and/or duty holder to ensure the ongoing testing and maintenance of all fire safety facilities and equipment which are required to keep people safe.

You should contact your relevant contractors to establish their current procedures for undertaking emergency repairs and routine maintenance.

Q. My business is closed at the moment. Do I still need to test and maintain the fire alarm and other fire safety systems?

If the premises are closed, the fire safety systems may not need to be maintained.


However, the testing and maintenance of the fire alarm system should continue where:

  • it is still required to protect people who still work or live within your premises;
  • it forms part of a communal fire alarm system for the building;
  • a fire on your premises would impact other people within the vicinity of your premises;
  • not doing so would impact upon the terms of your insurance policy. You should consider contacting your insurance company before taking any action.

If you are not sure of the purpose of any fire safety system please seek further advice from a competent person.

Before your premises come back into use you must ensure any fire safety system, for the protection of life, has been tested and is fully operational. You should arrange for a competent person to check your premises fire safety systems as soon as possible, especially for any premises which provide sleeping accommodation.

Q. My business is closed at the moment, can I attend if I am notified by an alarm receiving centre or the fire and rescue service that the alarm is sounding, and I am a keyholder?

A. You should make every effort to attend the premises whilst adhering to current government advice as best as possible. This will ensure frontline fire and rescue service resources are not tied up unnecessarily. When you arrive at the premises you should keep yourself safe and, if there are indications of a fire, immediately leave the premises and phone 999.

6. Fire prevention and risk management

Q. What can I do to further reduce the risk of fire in my premises?

A. Alongside normal day-to-day fire prevention measures, you should:

  • store any excess waste securely and away from premises, where possible
  • ensure staff remain vigilant to and report emerging new practices which may have an adverse impact on your current fire safety precautions
  • prohibit any hot works unless necessary. If they do need to take place, ensure they are carried out by a competent person with a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in place with appropriate checks following completion of the work
  • ensure any excess storage does not block escape routes and is stored away from any potential sources of ignition.

Keep your fire risk assessment under review with consideration to arson risk.

Q. What can I do to protect people who are working from home?

A. For employees who are working from home, please encourage them to:

  • take the time to check home fire safety arrangements and ensure that smoke alarms are fitted, tested and are working correctly
  • use electrical items safely e.g. do not 'daisy chain' extension leads
  • make sure all members of the family know what to do if there is a fire - particularly those who live with older people and children
  • get in a routine of carrying out a bedtime check - close all doors, unplug electrical appliances and chargers, check heaters are off, and any candles and cigarettes are properly extinguished.

Remind everyone if there is a fire:

  • Get out,
  • Stay out, and
  • Call the fire service out by dialling 999.

For further advice on fire safety in the home see our Safety in the Home pages or see the Government Fire Kills campaign.

Q. Is it OK to burn rubbish in my garden/yard?

A. We urge everyone to consider if there is a real need to burn rubbish or garden waste. Whilst we are still responding to emergency calls, a fire service response to an out of control bonfire places an unnecessary increased burden on us at this extremely challenging time.

Read our advice about bonfires

7. Miscellaneous

Q. What do I do if refurbishment work affecting fire safety measures in my premises has ceased as the construction company has temporarily closed for business?

A. You need to assess the risk posed to your staff and/or occupants. The premises fire risk assessment must be reviewed and revised to take account of the circumstances e.g. changes to automatic fire detection and alarm systems, means of escape, emergency procedures, etc.

If you are not sure, seek advice from a competent person.

For the latest Covid-19 information for construction sites go to The Construction Leadership Council.

 

Updated 22 June 2020


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