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The importance of fire safety in the workplace
Fires can happen at any time and can affect any business. As an employer, you're responsible for the safety of workers.
You’re also responsible if you’re:
- The owner
- The landlord
- Or occupier
Of non-domestic premises.
There are a variety of regulations in places to protect employees on or off-site. And the body responsible for enforcing these rules is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. They’re legally entitled to a working environment free of risks and hazards. This relates to everything from their physical to their mental health and wellbeing.
This piece focuses on fire safety in the workplace. In it, we’ll explore the HSE regulations in place to protect employees as well as the importance of carrying out regular and adequate fire drills at work.
The law on fire safety
The main regulation that addresses fire safety in the workplace in Ireland is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
The first and most important requirement from this legislation is for a fire safety risk assessment. This aims to help identify areas within the workplace that could cause a fire and the people who’ll be at risk.
For example, identifying all possible sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen. Or recognising that your kitchen staff are more likely to be at risk of being exposed to fire.
It applies to anyone responsible for workplaces and buildings to which the public has access to. The legislation requires all premises to reach the essential criteria. It also requires all employers to ensure their employees receive adequate safety training. This should be on the procedures they need to follow during a fire, including fire drills.
Use the result of the assessment to take adequate measures to eliminate, control or minimise the risk of injury or death in an emergency.
Other elements to consider in the assessment include:
- Providing and maintaining general fire-fighting equipment such as alarms, extinguishers, fire blankets etc.
- Planning for emergencies.
- Regular review and update of risk assessment.
- Marking fire exits and ensuring they’re unobstructed at all times.
- Separating sources of ignition and any flammable substances.
The importance of fire safety
According to the Home Office fire-related fatality statistics for the year 2016/2017, Fire and Rescue Services in England attended to over 15,000 fires in non-dwelling (commercial) buildings.
The one thing that’s for certain in this report is that fires can affect any type of building. Apart from industrial sites with high risks of fires due to the nature of the work, the report also accounts for fires in hospitals, schools, and shops.
As well as fulfilling your legal obligation, fire drills are important to know how your staff will behave in high-pressure situations such as fires.
As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’. Carrying out regular fire safety checks provides you with an opportunity to identify any weak spots in the process and improve on it.
The legal obligation is to conduct these drills at least once a year but it’s advisable to carry them out more often than that. Especially if your workplace is one with various fire risk factors.
It’s worth noting, to prevent instances of chaos and panic you should inform all employees of the upcoming fire drill.
Protecting off-site workers
Because not all emergencies happen whilst staff are on office premises, your remote workers could also be at risk.
For the year 2013/2014, the department for Communities and Local government found that 80% of all recorded fires were domestic. Under the health and safety legislation, you could be at risk of prosecution if you don’t know where they are when an accident happens.
This means that you also have to consider the safety of your employees working off-site. It’s important that they know how to respond if they find themselves at risk whilst off-site or travelling for work.
Of course, it’s much more difficult to ascertain who’s at risk when employees aren’t located in the office. Advancements in technology are allowing businesses to take advantage of the lone worker devices to monitor and protect staff.
Various apps have made it so that during times of emergencies such as terror attacks and natural disasters, you’re able to locate and protect your employees working offsite. With it, you’re able to fulfil your duty of care by identifying who is in or near an incident area and collecting real-time information from those in affected zones.
Other tips for ensuring the safety of off-site workers include:
- Providing thorough training to equip staff to recognise and avoid hazards.
- Determining any possible risks field employee may face when they’re off-site.
- Developing a procedure to communicate with an assigned member of staff at predetermined intervals.
Because risks may vary depending on the job, it’s important to consider every role and how they could be at risk.
For those in the office, prevention steps such as ensuring fire safety equipment are kept clear and holding regular drills can make all the difference during times of emergencies.
For remote workers, as well as providing them with training, personal protective equipment and taking advantage of the latest in lone worker devices, remember to review supervision arrangements and make use of dynamic risk assessments as the dangers they’re exposed to can change depending on their situation.