Brand Director at Barbour EHS

January 19, 2021


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FIA publishes guidance on fire procedures during COVID-19

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has published new guidance, which is intended to clarify the requirements for ensuring that adequate fire evacuation procedures are in place in reoccupied and partially reoccupied premises.

FIA-COVIDFireProcedures-21The guidance in this FSA document is intended to provide information to:

  • The Responsible Person(s) (Primary duty holder) and all persons with duties under the applicable national fire safety legislation
  • Anyone involved in organising, carrying out, and monitoring fire evacuation drills
  • Fire risk assessors
  • Enforcing authorities

Traditionally, the objective of a fire evacuation drill has been to provide staff and building occupants with the opportunity to practice the established evacuation procedures. These procedures would have been first explained as part of the induction training when a person joined the organisation. The fire evacuation drill provided an opportunity to test and time those procedures under simulated fire conditions, and to identify any anomalies that needed to be addressed.

Owing to the potential risk of contracting COVID-19, the testing of procedures through full building evacuations is, in the case of many buildings, considered to present an unacceptable risk of person-to-person infection. Furthermore, the manner in which buildings are used and occupied is likely to have changed and might have an impact on the pre-COVID-19 fire procedures.

The guidance in this document is intended to clarify the requirements for ensuring that adequate fire evacuation procedures are in place in reoccupied and partially reoccupied premises. It offers answers to some common questions that have arisen due to COVID-19, and it also provides some suggestions as to how these requirements might be achieved. In addition, this guidance also examines the associated fire safety arrangements that support the evacuation procedures and that will need to be maintained while COVID-19 pandemic controls are in place.

It suggests that areas which need to be reviewed include:

  • Fire wardens – Are there sufficient present at all material times of the day, do additional wardens need to be appointed, do their duties and responsibilities need to be revised?
  • Fire Risk Assessments – These should be reviewed to ensure that changes in occupancy numbers and working practices have been captured and properly assessed. To reduce the time that risk assessors need to spend on site, alternative arrangements for reviewing documents and records, such as electronic transfer of documents (preferably prior to the fire risk assessment) should be considered.
  • One-way systems, safety screens and queuing systems:
    • Do any of these arrangements impact on the escape routes and travel distances?
    • Do screens obstruct fire detectors or sprinkler heads?
    • Are sufficient, suitable fire extinguishers provided on one-way systems?
    • Can fire alarm call points be accessed on one-way systems?
    • In an emergency, can occupants easily leave the one-way system to access the nearest escape route?
    • Does the one-way system lead occupants away from the nearest fire exit?
  • Where considered relevant, there should be consultation with interested parties (insurers, fire and rescue authorities)
  • Doors should not routinely be propped open to reduce contact points. Where it is considered that this is necessary, door hold-open devices are often acceptable, but care should be taken to conform to the recommendations of BS 7273-4 in this respect. For example, a “Critical (Category A)” interface between the fire alarm system and the door hold-open devices is necessary in certain circumstances, such as doors to staircases in single staircase conditions, sleeping risks and assembly or recreation buildings; under these circumstances, acoustically activated hold-open devices would not be appropriate.
  • Assembly points:
    • Does the current assembly point facilitate social distancing?
    • Does the location of the assembly point bring the assembled people into close contact with passing members of the public?
    • Can people safely disperse from the assembly point after they have checked in?
    • Are several assembly points required to enable social distancing?
    • Can you establish virtual assembly points or roll calls using technology?
    • Can Assembly point communications be improved using technology or social media, so that they remain effective but help in maintaining social distancing?
  • Where relevant, fire procedure notices need to be amended.

Read the FIA’s full guidance notes on fire procedures during COVID-19.

This news story is in partnership with Barbour EHS, a specialist information service provider supporting professionals across sectors including fire and security, FM, health and safety, sustainability and energy. Find out more about the company in our exclusive Tech Talks video below.

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