It is all too easy to become complacent about safety systems, which is why health and safety regulations often require actions which ensure that risk assessments do not just become a mindless tick-box exercise. The fact that fire risk assessments are vital has been brought home with events like the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 and Australia’s ongoing 2019/2020 bushfires.
Fire is a risk both inside buildings and outside, and sometimes there is little we can do to prevent it from occurring but this is precisely why fire risk assessments need to be carried out. Here are some things to look for:
Can people get in and out easily?
There should always be multiple points of entry and exit, not only to a building but to a building complex. Should a fire occur and block off one of these points of access, there should be alternative ways in and out so no one can become trapped. Keep an eye out for blockages of roadways outside the premises – not only can these prevent people escaping from a burning area, but they can prevent fire-fighters making their way into the area to help people evacuate and, if possible, save the building.
Are the fire escapes clear?
Inside buildings, fire escapes should be kept clear at all times – they often turn into not-so-temporary storage areas for surplus stock, spare office furniture, large items awaiting disposal and so-on. This should never be allowed, with a strict zero-tolerance policy on placing anything in that area at all.
When was the last fire drill?
Evacuation plans should be in place, and drills held regularly so people know exactly where to go in the event of a fire. Fire escapes may seem obvious in normal conditions, but when people are panicking and smoke is obscuring visibility this is not the case. Every new employee should have fire safety training and be told where to find the evacuation plans.
Are fire doors being used properly?
Fire doors are always marked with stickers stating ‘Fire door, keep closed’. These doors are fire resistant and having two or three fire doors between you and a conflagration can be the difference between suffering burns or worse, or being absolutely fine after a fire. Regular fire door inspections should be put into place.
Fire risk assessments require management and safety experts to examine every aspect of the office building with a view to fire safety. For fire risk assessments, the emphasis is on looking at the electrical system and ensuring the wiring is in good shape, looking for easily flammable areas such as dry piles of paper-filled files, grease spots from a kitchen and furniture compliant with fire-safety regulations. Intumescent paint for steel, which slows the advance of fire, should also be applied wherever applicable.
To summarise: as well as being proactive and seeking out potential problems, passive fire protection methods should also be used. This will ensure that should something slip through the cracks, even with an active system of checks and enforcement in place, the building will be less likely to come to harm.