Fire Safety Surveys
A fire safety survey is a detailed and methodical examination of a company's premises, and the activities it carries out there, to determine ways in which the threat from fire can be minimized. Until recently they would be performed by the Fire Brigade, who then issued fire safety certificates to show one had been conducted. However, this arrangement has since been changed, and it is now the responsibility of all businesses to show that the risks of fire have been minimized, and that appropriate escape plans are in place, for people on their premises.
Conducting a Fire Safety Survey
Any company undertaking a fire safety survey has to appoint a 'competent person' to carry it out. This could simply be the manager, an employee who's received the appropriate training, or someone belonging to a third-party that's been brought in to do so (see 'Fire Safety Survey Companies' below). If the organization having its premises surveyed employees five or more people (or is licensed) than three things need to be recorded in case of inspection - its significant findings, the actions to be taken which result from the assessment, and details of anyone who would be especially at risk in the event of a fire. Even firms to who this doesn't apply could find it useful to record the results, as they provide a clear blueprint for changes that need to be made going forward.
A successful fire safety survey can easily be broken down into five steps. These are:
Identifying Fire Hazards
This includes possible sources of ignition (especially places where heat builds up over time) , materials and substances that could act as fuel and potential sources of oxygen (such as the ventilation system).
Identifying Individuals at Risk
These are people who spend time in and around the premises, paying particular attention to those who would a fire especially incapacitating (such as asthmatics) and those who would be least able to escape from one (employees with physical disabilities).
Evaluating and Protecting
The first part of this step is to evaluate both the risk of a fire occurring in each part of the premises, and then what the associated risk to people would be. For example, a piece of machinery which gets very hot would be a fire risk, and then calculating the threat this poses to staff would involve working out how likely they are to be near it when in use. The protecting part then involves taking steps to counteract these hazards, either by removing the object which is dangerous or taking steps to make it safer. Ways of reducing the risks to members of staff should also be investigated, possibly involving some of the following:
- Detection and warning systems (such as smoke detectors and alarms)
- Fire fighting tools (such as extinguishers)
- Escape routes
- Improved lighting
- Signs and notices
- Regular maintenance of all the above
Planning for the Future
Once a survey has been carried out its main findings should be recorded and acted upon, including the preparation of a comprehensive emergency plan for what everyone on the premises should do in the actual event of fire. Then, the management should co-ordinate with those lower down the company hierarchy to ensure everyone is aware of what they would expected to do under this plan. Finally, any necessary training should be provided to help employees enact the emergency plan, for example so that they are aware of how to operate fire extinguishers, or would be able to locate the escape routes under emergency conditions. There are organizations (including the Fire Brigade) which specialize in providing such training.
The survey should be performed once a year and revised where necessary, with all relevant employees kept up to date with any changes to the fire safety arrangements which affect them.
Advice for a Useful Fire Safety Survey
It's important that whoever undertakes to do the survey obtains all their information by actually going around the premises to inspect it, and obtaining the knowledge from any relevant employees, rather than simply trying to guess things or rely on purely their own records and memories. The survey should have time devoted to it and be performed in a systematic manner, with larger premises being broken up into more manageable areas that can be considered in detail on their own, bearing in mind that they must be covered in their entirety, including outdoor areas and spaces that are seldom used.
Premises which are part of a multi-use structure (such as let units in a shopping centre) must still carry out their own fire safety surveys, although arrangements for escape routes and other shared safety elements will be the responsibility of whoever owns the overall building. The activities of different occupiers in such buildings will have an effect on each other's level of fire safety (for example, a paint shop creates a fire hazard for whatever type of outlet is located above it in a multi-level shopping centre) which those performing the fire safety survey need to be aware of. An important technical point is that fire safety comes under the larger umbrella of workplace health and safety law, so the measures that have been taken towards it will be enforced by the Health and Safety Executive or local authority.
Fire Safety Survey Companies
If a business doesn't feel it has anyone that's qualified enough to perform the fire safety survey on its existing staff then it is possible for them to pay one of a number of companies that exist to provide this service so that it will be done for them. Having a reputed professional conduct the survey should ensure it is undertaken with a high level of expertise, whilst also preventing existing workers from being distracted away from their normal tasks by it.
Fireescape.co.uk recommends the following companies: