Within the years 2020/2021, the Fire Rescue Service recorded just under 12,000 non-dwelling fire-related incidents. There were 14 fatal casualties and 743 non-fatal casualties. While this showed a slight decrease in fire-related incidents in comparison to the annual before that, it still, however, spelt out one thing very clearly: that the threat of fire and fire-related incidents are still very real and still very ominous.
How do workplaces handle this threat? Why is there so much focus and elaborate directive on organized action in the case of an incident? Surely self-preservation should be the only motivation for staying safe? It is right to wonder, because reflection eventually brings enlightenment. The answers to all these lie in realizing the importance of prioritizing fire safety in the workplace.
The importance of fire safety measures
Fires are incredibly ghastly. The element itself is an unforgiving force of nature that consumes everything it can and never gives up until it is made to. Every year, the British Economy loses millions of pounds to it. This is not taking into account the costs of reconstruction or the productivity loss from having workplaces burnt down. More importantly, over 10 lives are lost to workplace-related fires every year. Fatal casualties are low, but respect for the sanctity of every human life dictates that vigorous efforts are directed into total elimination of the problem at hand.
The ultimate goal of fire safety measures in the workplace is to keep all workers safe regardless of how precarious things may get. In situations devoid of predetermined safety procedures, the chances of people getting hurt increase exponentially. These procedures are extremely beneficial to the safety of staff because they:
- Educate workers on risk and plans of action
- Reduce the risks of the fire spreading to other buildings
- Eliminate excess panic and keep evacuations orderly during incidents
It goes without saying that the implementation and proper execution of fire safety measures should be given top priority in every workplace. Although this should be a no-brainer when starting a business or opening an office, the fact remains that we cannot possibly foresee all eventualities and that regardless of our best efforts, there always would be a slight risk to workers in all places. In recognition of this, the British government in the year 2000, incorporated the concept of risk assessment into legislation and drew up The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order in 2005, which covers a broad class of fire incidents in non-domestic places.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order
This British government, with this order, mandates that a Responsible Person (a term including employers and/or parties in control of the work building) be held accountable for the safety of the employees and anyone else who may be on the premises. It lays down fire safety duties and gives certain parties the power to enforce adherence to these duties. According to the order, the Responsible person must
- Perform a fire risk assessment exercise
- Identify and communicate the risks found, and define “at-risk persons” like the handicapped or the elderly. These findings must be recorded if there are more than 5 employees
- Draw up fire safety measures in accordance with the identified risks to protect employees
- Communicate these measures to all employees by giving the necessary training and drills to execute said measures
All safety measures adopted by the Responsible person must be in congruity with the potential risks and conditions on the ground. The onus of enforcement of this legislation lies with the local fire authority. It is mandated that all workplaces must be in deference to the fire rescue authorities in this regard; the authorities can inspect the premises at any given time and they can issue notices concerning areas where fire safety measures fall short of optimality. Failure to adopt or incorporate these recommendations would attract penalties. The authorities might give formal notices and errants might end up paying fines of up to £10,000 or risk being imprisoned for up to 2 years.
How to make things safer in the workplace
The first step to making things safe in the workplace is to complete a fire risk assessment. In doing this, a competent person would consider all possible scenarios and identify at-risk personnel, crafting fail-safe plans to ensure they are quickly removed from the premises. The identified risks would be reduced to the barest possible minimum, and eliminated if possible. Records on findings should be kept and staff should be enlightened and offered training on what to do in the event of a fire. This assessment should be reviewed as periodically as is appropriate; potential risks may evolve and new ones also may develop. Adopted drills must be up-to-date and able to nullify all incidents.
On the premises, employers are required to have the following:
- A mode of detection/warning. Offices with more than one floor must have an alarm system. This system must be regularly tested for optimal functioning, and there must be fail-safes in place to eliminate and deal with false alarms.
- A means of escape. All offices must have an escape route with exit doors and signposts pointing them out. There are two types of signposts required in all offices
- Action signposts which show what to do in event of a fire
- Location signposts which point out where exits and fire equipment are
These exit routes must always be free of blockage and the doors must be easy to open.
- Emergency lighting. Darkened rooms during a fire would only cause panic. The emergency lights must illuminate the main rooms, the escape routes, and the high-rise areas (this would enable skilled personnel to shut down precarious machines if there is still time)
- Fire fighting equipment. Fire hoses and extinguishers must be on hand for the different kinds of fires.
- Drills and training. Workers should be directed to attend regular drills. This reduces panic and ensures that the workforce acts as a well-oiled and efficient machine when the time to act is at hand
- Fire safety measures and emergency plans should be published. In these plans, roles must be defined clearly and tasks delegated. There should be people who reach for the alarms and people who keep vulnerable personnel safe. Personnel should also be advised on how to prevent fires from occurring at all
There are a lot of intricacies surrounding the implementation and execution of a proper fire safety procedure, however, the keys to perfect utility are adherence on the part of the workers, and competence on the part of the Responsible Person. When those virtues are present in large amounts, you can be sure that your workplace is unlikely to encounter any problems along the line.