Fire safety in offices

Office fire safety is often taken for granted by staff. When you spend so much of your day in an office, it is easy to forget the risks that are present. Office fires are rare, but they can be devastating when they do occur. The following reminders relate to fire safety actions affecting your staff. A detailed fire safety assessment of your own premises can be found in your company’s fire risk assessment, which is a legal document and looks at all the fire risks in your organisation and the remedial actions and structural fire safety provisions.

Fire Drills

Every member of staff must be made aware of where the nearest fire exits are and which routes to take when exiting the building. The best way of ensuring that all staff know the escape routes is to carry out regular fire drills.

To start the drill, sound the fire alarm system by triggering individual alarms or manual break points (every time from a different location). Then check that all your staff and visitors have arrived at the assembly points. For this purpose it is important that visitor books are filled in correctly and taken by the fire warden to the assembly point during the drill. A visitor having left the premises without signing out will cause you a lot of headache during fire drills!

During fire drills, simulate one or two of the fire exits being blocked by fire. Place a fire warden in front of the fire exits, turning back members of staff trying to leave through this exit. It is surprising how difficult staff find it to identify an alternative, safe escape route.

Record the trigger points being used to set off the alarm system and record the fire drill in your fire safety logbook. Any failings experienced during the drill must be recorded and acted upon swiftly.

Escape routes

Staff escaping a building must be visually directed to the safest and usually quickest route leading to the nearest fire exit. Ensure that photoluminescent (glow in the dark) fire escape route signs are indicating the nearest exit and are clearly visible. You need to ensure that even if the mains power fails, all escape route signs are visible and that stairs and awkward floors are lit sufficiently to escape safely. You can achieve this by installing emergency lights or by installing illuminated fire exit signs in the first place.

Fire Extinguishers in offices

Portable fire extinguishers can be very valuable in stopping small fires getting out of hand and turning into large fires which threaten lifes, property and even the business’ survival. However, if fire extinguishers are used incorrectly or if the fire is too large to be extinguished safely, staff might get injured and fires might still get out of hand. Train your staff in the correct use of extinguishers. Where possible reduce the number for different fire extinguisher types to a minimum to avoid confusion. The new dry water mist fire extinguisher development allows to have just one extinguisher type covering most fire risks in an office. The application of this extinguisher type is also very safe and simple.

Ensure that you cover all risk areas with fire extinguishers. Ensure that your extinguishers were commissioned by a service engineer at your premises and are maintained in accordance to British Standards. Please note that where self-maintenance extinguishers are installed, a yearly visual inspection by your staff is still required and must be documented in your fire safety log book.

In addition, your own staff representatives must visually inspect all your extinguishers on a regular base to ensure that the extinguishers are not damaged in between the yearly maintenance visit or even empty.

Manual Call Points (MCP)

Make sure that all employees understand that the first thing to do if they discover a fire is to press the nearest manual call point (also called manual break points). This alerts all of your staff of the fire. New staff must be shown the call points during their induction period. Fire action signs help to re-inforce the correct behaviour in case of a fire.

Where office buildings are shared with other companies, make sure that a system exists of notifying all the companies in the building if there is a fire.

 

The importance of fire drills

Fire drills are an important part of your fire safety procedures for many reasons. Not only do they ensure that all staff, customers and visitors to your premises understand what they need to do if there is a fire, but they also help you to test how effective your fire evacuation plan is and to improve certain aspects of your fire provisions.

As well as testing that your fire alarms are working, carrying out a full fire drill will help you to check other equipment such as fire door retainers, which are usually released when a fire alarm sounds. You may wish to also check that your LED emergency lighting works effectively during the fire drill. If you have found that there are problems with any of your equipment, take immediate steps to replace it or get it fully checked out if it can be repaired. All of our essential fire safety equipment is covered by our free extended five year warranty and we also offer next day shipping to ensure that you get your replacement equipment as soon as possible.

Knowing how often to carry out a fire drill will depend on the level of risk that is present in your building, with a minimum of at least once a year. If you have customers on your premises, such as in a shop or restaurant, try to schedule your fire drill taking this into account. Staff should not always be informed of fire drills but if your alarm system is linked to the fire service always advise them of the drill beforehand.

Fire drills in schools

As part of the annual health and safety audit that schools have to complete the subject of fire safety will arise. Questions about the maintenance of fire extinguishers and smoke alarms as well as other equipment will need to be assessed. Are the annual checks up to date and are regular visual checks carried out throughout the year?  Along side this the procedure for fire drills will also be reviewed.

Most schools are very good at carrying out fire drills on a regular basis but do the drills go far enough to be useful to highlight any difficulties that may occur in the event of a real fire? The usual procedure for a fire drill is to set off the alarm system and evacuate the children out of the building as quickly as possible. This is good practice and familiarises both pupils and staff with the routine but where is the fire situated from which they are evacuating?

These common fire drills do not take into account that one or more exits may be blocked in the event of a real fire and that an alternative route may need to be used. Teachers who have always used the same exit door in a drill may panic if this exit is blocked by a real fire and may not be able to lead the pupils to safety.  It is essential that different exits are blocked in a drill to ensure that it is second nature for the teachers and pupils to use an alternative route.

A fire drill where an exit is blocked may highlight that in actual fact there is only one escape route and that a window may then need to be utilised as exit point. If the window is double glazed and does not open fully it may be necessary to have an emergency escape hammer fitted near the window. If the room is not on the ground floor there may be a need to install an external fire escape ladder.

Increase the scope of your next fire drill and simulate a fire blocking an exit point. It can be as simple as someone standing at the exit door waving their arms saying “this exit is blocked by fire”.